Jose Mourinho’s love-in with the Europa League continues as Tottenham Hotspur take on Dinamo Zagreb in the last 16 of the tournament.
The north London side managed four wins and a draw from their six group games to finish top of the group, before putting eight goals past Wolfsberger AC over two legs in the round of 32 recently. They’ve been drawn with Dinamo Zagreb, the Croatian champions and current league leaders of their domestic division.
Zagreb came through a group containing Wolfsberger AC, Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow as group winners, having conceded just one goal over all six games. They then despatched of Krasnodar over two legs, winning 3-2 away and 1-0 at home to claim a comfortable aggregate win and progression to the next round.
Spurs have recently been able to find a new, rich vein of form that has seen them recapture their early season successes. The resurgence of Gareth Bale and Dele Alli in the starting lineup has helped ease the load on Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, while the club have found a good balance in midfield by dropping Tanguy Ndombele into a slightly deeper role.
Defensively they’re still conceding goals, although Matt Doherty is beginning to show signs of the form that convinced them to sign him from Wolves while Sergio Reguilon’s return to fitness has been a timely boost for the side too.
The attacking quality of the Spurs squad has seen them rightly labelled as favourites for the tie, but Zagreb will not be pushovers. They’ve conceded just 22 goals in the league from 23 games this season as well as only three in the Europa League so far from eight games.
They’ve won their last four games in a row while keeping a clean sheet and their run of eight wins in a row has seen them concede just twice, with both goals coming in just one game. You’d have to go back 16 games in Spurs’ calendar to see their last four clean sheets, which tells you all about the issues they’ve had defensively.
Despite that, it’s highly unlikely that Mourinho will allow his side to crash out over two legs against a team they should absolutely be beating.
He is likely to name a strong side, not mostly because his squad is so deep that any lineup he chooses to put out is without a doubt going to be strong enough to deal with the threat Zagreb pose.
On top of that, he is likely to prioritise the tournament ahead of the Premier League. Spurs currently sit in 7th place in the league, five points behind fourth having played a game less than current occupiers Chelsea. While that may not seem like a huge gap, Everton and West Ham still sit above them and have played the same amount of games.
Mourinho has previously prioritised the Europa League while at Manchester United and went on to win the tournament while finishing outside of the Champions League places. With Spurs desperate for a trophy and Mourinho desperate to be the one to give it to them, the prospect of a potential double with the Europa League and Carabao Cup could be too much for him to let slide.
Overall the squad is too strong to not predict that they’d progress into the next round. They have more quality on the pitch, a deeper squad and a better manager so it all points in their favour. Zagreb will need to have the perfect game twice in order to be able to get into the next round and the chances of that are just too slim.
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Tottenham
Tottenham 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb
(Tottenham to progress 5-1 on aggregate)