Tim Sherwood will make several changes to his Tottenham side as they return to Europa League action with the first leg of their last-32 tie against Dnipro in Ukraine on Thursday. First-team regulars Hugo Lloris, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul and Aaron Lennon have all been left at home, with the quest to qualify for next season’s Champions League apparently a clear priority for the Spurs boss.
“They all have niggles,” Sherwood said, when explaining his selection decisions, according to Tottenham’s official website. “They will miss this game but we hope they will be ready [for Norwich] on Sunday. It’s an opportunity for the other lads.”
The match is set to go ahead in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, which is 220 miles from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev where several people have died in anti-government protests. A day of mourning is being held in the country on Thursday and there will be a minute’s silence before the match while both teams will also wear black armbands.
On the pitch, Sherwood is likely to pair Jan Vertonghen with Michael Dawson at the back, while Andros Townsend should get a first start in more than two months. With Jermain Defoe out, Roberto Soldado is expected to start up front. Tottenham will also be without Sandro, Erik Lamela and Vlad Chiriches.
Pitting his wits against Sherwood will be former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos. The Spaniard lasted less than a year at White Hart Lane, despite delivering what remains the club’s last trophy with the League Cup in 2008. After short spells at Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow, Ramos has led Dnipro to three consecutive fourth place finishes in the Ukrainian league. They come into Thursday’s encounter also in fourth place.
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While Ramos is understandably unhappy with the way his time in north London came to an end and how his reign has subsequently been perceived, he is eager to focus on the present.
“Only three or four players remain at Tottenham from my time,” he said, according to Uefa.com. “It's nice to reflect on the League Cup we won, but a lot of time has passed since. I'm focused on other tasks now.”
Regardless of Tottenham’s rotation, Ramos is under no illusions about the strength of Dnipro’s opponents.
“Their budget is three of four times bigger than ours, " he explained. “They paid around €30m for Roberto Soldado in the summer and will have a very strong team regardless of who travels to Dnipropetrovsk."
Dnipro have a star of their own, in Ukraine international Yevhen Konoplyanka. The talented winger was close to a move to Liverpool in the January transfer window, with the Premier League side reportedly having agreed to pay his release clause before seeing the transfer blocked by Dnipro’s owner. Despite the breakdown in the deal, Konoplyanka claims to be fully concentrated on what is his club’s first match in more than two months due to Ukraine’s winter break.
“The Dnipro badge is still on my chest and all I'm thinking about is the upcoming game," he said. "Tottenham are a very strong team and it will be very interesting to test myself against them. Any player wants to play against such opposition. We are all really motivated and desperate to succeed."
Where to watch: The first leg of the UEFA Europa League round-of-32 tie will kick off from the Dnipro Arena at 1 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 2, with a live stream available via a free trial to Fox Soccer 2Go.