Tottenham Hotspur kickstart their Europa League qualifying campaign on Thursday with a trip to Bulgaria to face off with Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Spurs head to Eastern Europe following an opening day Premier League loss to Everton 1-0. It was a poor performance from Jose Mourinho’s team. The manager will hope his side can rebound away to Lokomotiv Plovdiv and improve their fitness.
The Europa League qualifying rounds features one-off games. Due to the short timeframe created by COVID-19, ties are single elimination. It puts a lot of pressure on both clubs. Spurs finished sixth last season in the Premier League and edged out Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of the season via goal difference for the final Europa League place.
Lokomotiv Plovdiv finished second in the Bulgarian First Division table and qualified for the Championship Round. Their performance in the Championship Round led to qualification to the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
Manager Bruno Akrapovic led his team to a 1-0 win in the first qualifying round of the Europa League against Iskra Danilovgrad of Montenegro. Loko got the win thanks to a 75th minute penalty from Dimitar Iliev. It was a narrow victory and Tottenham Hotspur will fancy their chances of a big away win.
Lokomotiv Plovdiv have started the Bulgaria First Division season up and down. In five matches, the club have posted a record of 3W-0D-2L, collecting nine points from 15 possible. Akrapovic’s team are in fifth place after five games and just three points off of first-place side Ludogorets. The Railway men head into the game fresh of a league loss to Ludogorets at the weekend. Lokomotiv Plovdiv scored a 52nd-minute goal through Bircent Karagaren. However, they then conceded three goals without replay to Ludogorets.
Mourinho was left frustrated by his team. The club allowed Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin to score in the 55th minute of the game. Spurs claimed 52% of the game’s possession and tallied nine shots with five on target. They conceded 15 shots to the Toffees with four landing on target.
Lokomotiv Plovdiv will not pose the same strong opposition as Everton did on Sunday. However, last season, Spurs did struggle against lower-league teams in domestic cup competitions. Can Loko spring a surprise on Tottenham Hotspur?
It is unknown as the time of writing just how strong Mourinho’s squad will be on Thursday night. He could choose to play a younger side along with fringe players. However, Mourinho could make a statement by playing first-team players to give them some extra fitness work due to the lack of preseason games played over the summer.
It didn’t take long for Mourinho to criticise his players after Sunday’s loss. He was unhappy with the team’s pressing and fitness. Summer signing Matt Doherty was blasted by Mourinho in the media as he was called out for being unfit. Two players are currently on Spurs’ injury list. Defender Japhet Tanganga is recovering from a thigh injury and will miss the fixture. Midfielder Giovani Lo Celso is also recovering from a thigh injury. He could be fit for the fixture.
Mourinho is still moulding his squad. According to reports on Monday, Mourinho now wants to purchase Danny Ings from Southampton. Reports also indicate that Spurs lead the race to re-sign Gareth Bale. However, the amount of money it could take in transfer fee and wages could be a roadblock.
Not only did Mourinho call out his players for a lack of fitness, but having no creative spark. Dele Alli was poor against Everton. Some in the media bemoaned his performance while praising Everton’s James Rodriguez’s play in the game. Mourinho’s unhappiness with his team’s performance in attack can be blamed on tactics. Mourinho turned Mauricio Pochettino’s attacking, flowing team into a more rigid, defensive side.
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Tottenham Hotspur are a good defensive team under Mourinho. What they lack in attack, Spurs make up for it in defence. Lokomotiv Plovdiv should struggle against Spurs at home on Thursday night. Loko do not play teams of Tottenham Hotspur’s quality very often. Mourinho should master mind a qualifying round win to nil as Spurs move into the third qualifying round of the tournament.
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Lokomotiv Plovdiv are coming off of a weekend loss to Ludogorets. They conceded three second have goals allowing Ludogorets to come from behind to win. Tottenham Hotspur’s attack should come to life against Lokomotiv Plovdiv putting over 2.5 goals past the Bulgarian side. Tottenham Hotspur should get on track in Eastern Europe.
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Harry Kane had little service against Everton at the weekend. He took 2.00 shots in the 90-minute game and tallied an 0.16 expected goals figure from the opening match of the Premier League season. His low expected goals number showed just how few chances he had during the match. Kane scored 18 goals in 29 Premier League appearances last season. It was 4.70 goals more than his expected goals figure. Kane averaged 2.84 shots per 90 minutes in the league last term.
The Tottenham Hotspur striker could start away to Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Why? Mourinho may want to play his first-choice players to improve their fitness. Of course, Mourinho could play a team of fringe players, but with only four preseason games under their belt as a squad, the manager may choice to start a similar team as the one that played versus Everton.
Spurs were not very good against Everton at the weekend. They shouldn’t be that bad against Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Expect Mourinho to overrun the Bulgarians away stamping their place in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. If Mourinho’s team do fail to win on Thursday night, questions will begin to be asked about his ability to manage Spurs.
The Europa League qualification match between Lokomotiv Plovdiv and Tottenham will be played at the Lokomotiv Stadium Plovdiv in Bulgaria.
The Lokomotiv Plovdiv vs Tottenham match kicks-off at 17:00 on Thursday 17 September.