Tottenham Hotspur v Ludogorets: Europa League Group Stage Progress Still in the Balance for Table-Topping Spurs

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Tottenham Hotspur have, quite rightly, received plaudits for the way they’ve started the season and will be focused on their Europa League tie against Ludogorets on Thursday night.

Domestically, they are top of the league for the first time in six years and into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. In Europe, however, things haven’t been quite as simple. Despite topping Group J, Jose Mourinho’s side find themselves level on points with both Royal Antwerp and LASK. The 1-0 loss in Antwerp in matchday two was arguably Spurs’ lowest point so far this season. Matchday four sees Tottenham take on Ludogorets – which may prove to be a defining point in their European campaign this season.

Ludogorets Game Should Provide Chances to Fringe Players

Toby Alderweireld’s Injury Means Davinsom Sanchez Likely to Start in Europa League

First, it is important to address the elephant in the room that is Toby Alderweireld‘s injury. Mourinho has confirmed that the Belgian will not be taking part against Ludogorets, after picking up an abductor injury during the 2-0 win against Manchester City.

It means that Davinson Sanchez – who has only been involved with one matchday squad since that miserable defeat in Antwerp – is likely to replace Alderweireld at the centre of defence.

This may have been forced upon Mourinho, who has recently called upon new signing Joe Rodon as a replacement defender, instead of Sanchez.

Rodon, however, is ineligible for the Europa League group stage – meaning Sanchez has an opportunity to force his way back into Mourinho’s long-term plans.

At the other end of the pitch, Mourinho must decide whether to allow the in-form Harry Kane to continue leading the line, or give Benfica loanee Carlos Vinicius a rare start.

Vinicius’ last start, similarly to Sanchez, came against Antwerp. The Brazilian may have felt hard done by to be taken off at half-time, along with several of his teammates.

The striker’s performances haven’t been lacking in desire nor effort. Indeed, he was one of the best players on the pitch against LASK. However, he has yet to score a goal for Spurs.

A game against Ludogorets would likely be the perfect opportunity for Vinicius to rebuild his confidence after the Antwerp debacle.

Mourinho Must Strike Balance Between Rotation and Experience

The beauty of Tottenham’s squad this season is – on paper at least – its strength in depth.

The likes of Lucas Moura, who only made a cameo during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Manchester City, and is a favourite of Mourinho, will likely start against Ludogorets.

Gareth Bale is also in contention, having not played at all on the weekend.

Indeed, the temptation will be for Mourinho to make wholesale changes – particularly as his side face Chelsea on the weekend.

He mustn’t do this. The former Manchester United boss tried this tactic in the Antwerp fixture, where he brought in nine players after the 1-0 win against Burnley earlier in the week.

Spurs ended up producing a woeful display, against a team currently sitting sixth in the Belgian Pro League.

When Tottenham host Ludogorets, it is likely Mourinho will still make changes. However, he will blend in his rotational policy with a mix of first-team players as well. Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg, who has been key to Tottenham’s success this season, should start. So too should Tanguy Ndombele, although the latter’s fitness issues may prevent this.

Mourinho has made it clear that he is taking the Europa League seriously this season. He can’t risk another drab display in the competition, particularly in what is a very tight group.

Despite the comfortable nature of Spurs’ 3-1 win in the reverse fixture in Bulgaria, the Tottenham players will have learned from their experience in Antwerp that they still need to be at their best to ensure three points against Ludogorets.

With the reverse fixtures against LASK and Antwerp still to come, there really is no room for error.

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