Both Tottenham and their manager Andre Villas-Boas have plenty of history with their Europa League Round-of-16 opponents, Internazionale.
Ahead of the first-leg at White Hart Lane, Spurs fans will remember fondly their debut, and still only, Champions League campaign two years ago, which was highlighted by two encounters with the then-holders Inter.
At the San Siro Spurs came from 4-0 down with 10 men to just fall short of securing a stunning draw in a 4-3 defeat. In the return match in north London they went even better as they stunned their illustrious opponents with a 3-1 win. In both matches, Gareth Bale was the star as he scored a hat-trick in Milan before ripping through the Inter side at White Hart Lane.
It was those matches that announced Bale as a potential star on the world stage. He now faces the same opponents in the midst of the greatest form of his career and looking to further cement his place among the true elite of the world game.
The tie will also hold extra significance for Villas-Boas, who was part of the coaching staff at Inter for just over a season under Jose Mourinho. For Villas-Boas too, the tie can further enhance his burgeoning reputation after a brief road bump at Chelsea.
The Portuguese boss is eager to avoid surrendering an away goal as they did in their narrow victory in the last round over Lyon.
“We don’t want to concede a goal,” Villas-Boas said, according to Tottenham’s official website. “We were unlucky to concede against Lyon at home but it was a goal that put questions into the second leg. We want avoid that happening, so we need to be consistent and try to be as good as we have been recently in attack to take an advantage into the second leg.”
Villas-Boas is expected to stick with Brad Friedel in the Europa League, while Hugo Lloris remains first choice in the league. The key injury doubt for Tottenham is over influential midfielder Moussa Dembele, who was taken off with a knee injury in Sunday’s victory over Arsenal. Clint Dempsey looks set to be ruled out, but Jermain Defoe could return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the north London derby.
Injuries have crippled Inter for much of this season. The headline long-term absentees are key defender Walter Samuel and leading striker Diego Milito. Midfielder Fredy Guarin and defender Andrea Ranocchia are also big doubts for clash with Tottenham, while Yuto Nagatomo and Matias Silvestre are out.
After a struggling run in Serie A and with the pressure mounting on their young coach Andrea Stramaccioni, Inter responded from a 2-0 deficit at Catania at the weekend to secure a 3-2 victory.
D: Walker, Gallas, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto
M: Parker, Dembele
Lennon, Bale, Holtby
D: Zanetti, Juan, Chivu, Pereira
M: Kovacic, Gargano, Cambiasso
F: Palacio, Cassano
Prediction: Inter have been really struggling of late and appeared to have reached a nadir with a 4-1 defeat to Fiorentina last month. The win over Catania should give the side a boost, though, and with Antonio Cassano having apologized for his recent bust up with his coach there is some positive news for the Nerazzurri.
But Tottenham’s form has been phenomenally consistent of late and with Bale continuing his stunning form, Villas-Boas’ side should secure a first-leg lead over their injury-ravaged opponents.
Tottenham 2-1 Inter
Where to watch: The first leg of the Europe League last-16 tie will kick-off at 3.05 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available via Fox Soccer 2Go and in Spanish on ESPN3.