Spurs’ chances in the Champions League aren’t looking so hot these days, but don’t give up hope yet. We’re only a third of the way through the group stage. If we win our remaining games, as tall a task as that may be, our chances of qualifying for the knockout stage are decent. Did I mention how tall a task that is? The first step is beating PSV Eindhoven this afternoon. If we lose, we’re done for. If we win, we’re only a bit done for.
So who are our opponents in this key match? PSV, with a side full of young players, are currently dominating the Eredivisie. After nine games and nine wins, they hold a five-point lead over second-place Ajax and a goal difference of 33. In the Champions League, PSV have shown that they are capable of starting on the front foot; they scored the opening goal in their 2-1 defeat to Inter and kept the pressure on even as Inter outplayed them. Against Barca, they lost 4-0 and conceded a Messi hat trick, but they had earned a goalscoring opportunity early on which winger Steven Bergwijn squandered. Let’s take a look now at some crucial players who will be facing off to decide the fate of the game and the group stage.
Ben Davies versus Hirving Lozano
You may remember Hirving Lozano from his deciding goal in Mexico’s 1-0 defeat of Germany in their first World Cup match this summer. You may not remember him at all. At only 23 years old, the gifted winger is a rising star in Europe. Before transferring to PSV Eindhoven before the start of last season, he played in the Liga MX for Pachuca. He was PSV’s top scorer and won the Eredivisie in his first season with the team, and as he gains maturity, he will be looking to make an impact against Spurs. Pochettino’s scouts have allegedly been monitoring him since the summer, but who haven’t they been monitoring?Lozano always has an eye for goal. At times, he overpowers his shots, sending them off the post or well clear of the crossbar, as he did against Barcelona, but he is a threatening combination of speed, footskills, and intuition who seeks to get in behind defenders and outmaneuver them off the ball. Lined up against our lovable, slow left back Ben Davies, all of Lozano’s goalscoring potential will feel heightened, and Davies will need to win this battle in order to keep our defense from being torn open along that side.
Kieran Trippier versus Steven Bergwijn
From the defensive perspective, the game is going to be an interrogation of our fullbacks. Not only will Lozano try to get behind Ben Davies, but Kieran Trippier will be under attack by Steven Bergwijn, a speedy, technical winger whose greatest strength is his ability to beat defenders along the touchline. At only 21, he will soon be an attractive candidate to many clubs across Europe. Bergwin’s finishing is not particularly strong, but his dribbles and pace are immense. He will try to outfox Trippier if he cannot outrun him—but he very well might. Bergwijn represents a particular threat given our tendency to push our fullbacks high up the pitch. If he receives the ball with Trippier slightly out of position, he will create a distance between the two that will upset the balance of the rest of our defense, leaving room for PSV’s striker, Luuk de Jong, to find space. There is an additional threat of interplay between Steven Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano, because although Bergwijn looks best along the touchline, he can drift in more centrally, as well, and given that Lozano is fond of runs in behind defenders, Bergwijn could play him in or vice versa. On the other hand, Bergwijn is less of a goalscoring threat than others in the PSV attacking line, so he may not cause too much concern.
Christian Eriksen versus Jorrit Hendrix
Hopefully we will get to see Christian Eriksen back in action today. If so, he will spend a decent amount of time battling PSV’s defensive midfielder Jorrit Hendrix. A product of the PSV youth team, Hendrix players both as central defender and defensive midfielder. He, too, is young—23 years old—but has been playing for PSV’s senior team since 2013. Though a competent midfielder, Hendrix has not been a star for PSV, and has struggled to make it into the Netherlands national team, so with any luck, Eriksen will have an easy match back. There isn’t a lot written about Hendrix, though, and some have suggested that Tottenham have been investigating him as a possible replacement for Dembele, so pay attention to his performance, as his management of Eriksen could be a deciding factor in this game, but also an indicator of whether he’d be worth pursuing in a transfer. Bonus fact about Jorrit Hendrix: there are very cute photos of him each year since he was ten on the PSV website. Almost makes one want to root for him. Almost.
PSV are a team of young, promising players who will bring a great deal of energy and creativity into the game. They are also tied with us at the bottom of our Champions League group, having lost both of their first two games. Actually, they’re beneath us, because while both Spurs and PSV have conceded 6, Tottenham have scored 3, while PSV have only scored once, against Inter. Having nothing to lose and everything to play for, both teams will come into this game ready to fight for a result. With Dele Alli, Jan Vertonghen, and Danny Rose out, PSV will fancy their chances. If Spurs can pull together and dominate this game, though, particularly during the first half, it would be a promising return to form in Europe at a time that we need it most. If we win tomorrow, the comeback is on.