Tottenham welcome Slovenian side NK Maribor to White Hart Lane for a UEFA Europa League group stage match of the utmost importance. Andre Villas-Boas' men are third in Group J, with only three points from the opening round of fixtures. Worse still, Spurs have yet to win a game in European competition this season and still have to travel to Italy to play group leaders Lazio.
Maribor, meanwhile, have done surprisingly well so far in the competition. Darko Milanic has led his side to second, with four points and a comfortable 3-0 win over the fourth side in the group - Greece's Panathinaikos. A second successive draw with Spurs (the two drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture in Slovenia two weeks ago) will keep them in the driving seat for the second qualifying position and substantially increase pressure on AVB.
Where to Watch Live
Kick-off is set for 8.05 pm BST and live coverage is available on ITV 4. You can also follow all the action live via the Internet, with free text-based updates on Gamecast on Soccernet. Live coverage of the second match in the group - Lazio at home to Panathinaikos - can be accessed from 8 pm BST on ESPN and ESPN HD.
Spurs have had a disappointing last few weeks... a period of time marred by inconsistent results and, more recently, allegations of anti-Semitic abuse. Results from the past few games have included a 2-1 defeat to Norwich City at Carrow Road and a 2-4 home defeat to rivals Chelsea. AVB has won only once in the last five games in all competitions and questions continue to be raised about his tactical and motivational abilities.
Furthermore, Tottenham come into this game on the back of a disastrous 0-1 defeat to Wigan Athletic in a Premier League fixture. The loss, already the third of the London club's league campaign, leaves them in sixth place with 17 points from 10 games.
Maribor, meanwhile, are in a much better run of form. The Slovenians are on top of the PrvaLiga with 35 points from 15 games and have a three point (and two game) advantage over second placed Olimpija. They've won three of their last five games in the league and have lost just twice domestically. In Europe, apart from a defeat in both legs of the Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Zagreb, Maribor have lost only once - 0-1 to Lazio. The best news for the club, from the point of view of remaining in Europe, is they come into this game far fresher than their opponents. Maribor's last league game - against ninth placed Rudar on 7 November - was postponed.
A first European win of the season will be a welcome boost to Spurs' flagging season and, more importantly, serve to take some of the pressure of AVB's shoulders. The Portuguese made winning the competition a priority when he joined the club in the summer and needs his side to step up and deliver on that promise.
- Last Five (most recent first): L L W D L
- Last Match: Tottenham 0 - 1 Wigan
- Last Five (most recent first): D L W L L
- Last Match: Rudar - Maribor (postponed)
Tottenham: AVB will have one eye on a particularly difficult set of games following this one. After Maribor, Spurs will travel to face Premier League champions Manchester City and then to visit arch-rivals Arsenal in a high-profile set of games that could probably define their season, even at this early stage. And, after Arsenal, Spurs continue on the road and will travel to face Lazio in a potentially group-deciding European match.
With such a schedule ahead, it would not be a surprise to see some key players start on the bench for this game and only come on if absolutely necessary. One of those changes could be the inclusion of Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor. The top-scorer from last season (while on loan from City), Adebayor has been injured for most of the campaign so far and overlooked for England international Jermain Defoe when available. The seeming snub led to reports the former Gunner could leave White Hart Lane but AVB has recently confirmed the 28 year old is a part of his first team plans and this game could be the perfect platform for the African to shine. East European sides tend to have a reputation for favouring a physical direct style of play, which is something that suits him more than Defoe.
Tottenham will be unable to call on summer signing Moussa Dembele; the Belgian international is still struggling with a hip injury. In addition, full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul and Scott Parker are all also unavailable. Finally, Brazilian midfielder Sandro is also unlikely to play.
The good news is Jake Livermore will probably return to the midfield and will be partnered by Tom Huddlestone, who started the reverse fixture two weeks ago. Up front, Adebayor is expected to play and will probably be the better choice, tactically, but AVB may opt to retain Defoe in any case. Iceland midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson scored the equaliser in Slovenia and will once again be key to any goal threats Spurs pose. Gareth Bale will take his place on the left of the attack with Spain's Iago Falque a possibility for the other flank, given Andros Townsend's poor showing in the last game.
Summer signing Hugo Lloris will probably retain his place in goal, despite his poor showing in the 2-1 Capital One Cup defeat to Norwich, for the Frenchman does appear to be the designated cup goalkeeper for the side. Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker and Kyle Naughton will likely line up in front of him. Belgian centre back Jan Vertonghen is likely to be rested, considering the back-to-back games against City and Arsenal.
Tottenham: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Naughton; Livermore, Huddlestone; Falque, Sigurdsson, Bale; Defoe
Maribor: Milanic is likely to miss key defender Ales Mejac. The 29 year old Slovenian is an important part of the defence and his absence could create complications for the visitors. The good news, though, is the international has travelled to England, meaning that if he passes a late fitness test, he will probably start.
There is more good news - 6 ft 6 in centre back Jovan Vidovic is fit again. The tall and imposing defender will make life very difficult for Spurs' forwards and provides all the more incentive for AVB to start the more imposing Adebayor rather than the less physically able Defoe as the lone striker. And, to complete the set of good news for Milanic's defensive options, 23 year old Nejc Potokar is also available once again, after recovering from an injury.
The only absentee in the side that travelled to England is midfielder Rajko Rep.
Maribor: Handanovic; Milec, Rajcevic, Arghus, Mejac; Ibraimi, Filipovic, Mertelj, Cvijanovic; Tavares; Beric