While most of the English teams faltered in the Champions League game week, AVB would be keen to lead Tottenham to their first European victory this season. The trip to Slovenia is a must-win as Tottenham looks to qualify, but NK Maribor, the Slovenian champion, has played with confidence at home this season in all European competitions, only lost marginally to Dinamo Zagreb which cost them the Champions League place.
Tottenham will feel a bit hard done by their European results so far. A dominant performance at home against Lazio and a 75 minutes lead at Greece were rewarded with merely 2 points from 2 matches. Regardless of the result at Lazio, 3 points are essential to keep their hope of qualification within grab.
That could be why the unfit Emmanuel Adebayor was not even named in the squad, when AVB could not foresee an easy game at Maribor. However, without Bale, Dembele and Dempsey, the creativity in attack was very limited, especially when Sigurdsson is playing nowhere close to the level of the commanding Van der Vaart and Modric, playmakers of Tottenham last season.
With Dawson injured, Vertonghen shifted back to his natural position centreback, leaving the left flank to Andros Townsend and the returning Kyle Naughton. Both were fairly sloppy in the first half though and Tottenham had to focus their attack on the right. However, the support from midfield was never quick enough. Sigurdsson, Sandro and Townsend often arrived too late into the box in support of Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker.
The storyline has always been the same for Tottenham facing teams of smaller reputation. They control the possession but direct threats are lacking. One single moment of lapse in concentration would then put them on the back foot. This time, it was Townsend being dispossessed Dejan Mezga, who then followed with a brilliant run into the box and fed Robert Beric to give Maribor the lead. Townsend’s mistake came at the wrong moment, when Stephen Caulker was roaming forward hoping to help up front and could not track back on time. The goal came just before the half time whistle, which only further boasted the confidence of the home side, going to the second half with a deserved lead.
It was not surprised to see Townsend being taken off after half time, but whether Dempsey would be a better substitute than Iago Falque would be debatable. Maribor looked even more comfortable to play a counter-attack approach after interval. Hugo Lloris, who started again in the Europa League, made a good save to prevent Tavaris doubling the lead early in the second half.
Tottenham showed sign of urgency, knowing that a four-point gap with the second place could be way too far to reach. Iago Falque was much more composed than Townsend on the left and the Spanish emerged as the unlikely contributor to Tottenham’s leveller. The winger’s cross caused some confusion in the box and Sigurdsson captured the chance to make it 1-1.
Nevertheless, Tottenham could not ride on the momentum and Maribor had bravely held on. There were a couple of chances since Dempsey came on with a quarter of an hour to go, but neither teams could find the winning goal to claim the driving seat to earn the second place of the group.
NK Maribor would not be too unhappy with the draw, but they will be aware that their next two rounds are both away matches. On the other hand, the bright side for AVB is they will have the backing of home fans in the coming two games. Tottenham will be under the expectation of bagging all six points. Otherwise, they will leave themselves with quite a task to complete in Italy.
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