Nuno Espirito Santo was always going to play a heavily rotated side in Portugal last week, but the new Tottenham Hotspur boss took that to the extreme in the first leg of the Europa Conference League Playoff, with only Giovanni Lo Celso active from the typical starting XI. Unsurprising, the home side Paços de Ferreira ended the night ahead 1-0.
A one-goal deficit is not necessarily any cause for alarm. This side had nearly zero cohesion given its composition, and while it is never fun to trot out a group without much clear talent or experience, most fans were hoping for this sort of lineup anyway. Plus, with UEFA getting rid of the away goals rule, there is absolutely still a great chance to advance.
Of course, the question of how important it truly is to get to the Group Stage still remains. Can enough be taken from the team’s first two league matches to justify punting cup competitions to go for the top four? Or is it still worth the coefficient points, the playing time for the youth, and of course, the shot at finally breaking the trophy drought? There is no clear consensus, but maybe the decision will be made by tonight’s outcome.
Tottenham Hotspur (0) vs. Paços de Ferreira (1)
Date: Thursday, August 26
Time: 2:45 pm ET | 7:45 pm UK
Location: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, England
Given what transpired last week, Nuno will need to roll out a slightly stronger side in the second leg if Spurs want to advance. With Watford on the docket for this weekend and an international window to follow, perhaps some of the typical first-teamers can log a few extra minutes mid-week. Having this match at home helps make that argument as well.
One area where Spurs could really use some reinforcement is in midfield. This has been a theme during the league fixtures as well, but last Thursday especially, it seemed like Lo Celso was left on a bit of an island. Even with reserves taking a majority of the spots on the pitch, adding in some players that can actually progress and distribute the ball will be a huge boost compared to the first leg.
- Not many people were able to actually watch last week’s match, but it sounds like some of the fringe roster players were the most at fault. Harry Winks, Ben Davies, and Matt Doherty are the types of players who really do not have an excuse to not perform well in these situations. It will be interesting to see if Nuno chooses to replace these veterans or if the kids are the ones swapped out.
- Spurs have been in European competition every season since 2010/11. Only twice did they not advance from the Group Stage (2011/12 and 2016/17, though the latter only dropped them down from the Champions League to the Europa League). Never have they failed to move through the qualifying rounds when it was required.
- This appears to be another match without proper television (or streaming) coverage. Like last week, Twitter reporters will be the ones driving the conversation, with maybe an occasional highlight or two. Should Tottenham advance to the Group Stage, the U.S. rights are owned by Paramount+, and it is assumed that all matches going forward would be available.
[Editor’s note: after this article was written and scheduled, it was announced that this match WILL be streamed in the United States on Paramount+. A subscription is required. It is not televised in the USA.]