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Aug 20, 2014

Pochettino's European juggling act

ESPN FC's Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, Steve Nicol and guest Peter Walton analyse the red card Kyle Naughton received for his hand ball.

Andre Villas-Boas caused himself problems last season by consistently picking strong sides in the Europa League, despite the fact that the opposition did not warrant such respect.

In all, Spurs lost six of the 12 Premier League games that followed their Thursday night jaunts in Europe. These defeats included home losses to West Ham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal, along with away losses to Arsenal (again) and relegated Norwich.

It would be too simplistic to purely attribute these defeats to fatigue, but there's no denying that it was a factor. Tottenham faced several lengthy trips to Eastern Europe in last season's Europa League and made the mistake of taking players that were expected to play in the Premier League the following weekend.

You'd hope that Mauricio Pochettino will take a more sensible approach. The Europa League is a competition worth winning - - especially considering that a place in the Champions League is now awarded to the winner - - but a club like Spurs have the squad to negotiate the draining group stages without having to rely on their key players.

It is the perfect platform to give opportunities to youngsters, fringe squad members and those working their way back to fitness. At this early stage of the campaign, Pochettino is likely to use the Europa League games against Limassol to give some competitive action to the many players that have missed much of the preseason.

Starting from the back, Hugo Lloris will be rested and Michel Vorm has not been named in Pochettino's squad, so Brad Friedel will start in goal. He might be 43-years-old but Friedel proved in preseason that he is still a very capable shot stopper.

At right-back Kyle Naughton should get the nod. Having been sent off against West Ham, he will be suspended for the match against QPR and Kyle Walker is still injured. On the left, Pochettino will no doubt give Ben Davies his full debut, as the new signing looks to dislodge Danny Rose from the starting XI.

Jan Vertonghen should make his first appearance for Tottenham since last season, having not featured during the warm-up games after his World Cup appearance. Alongside him will probably be Michael Dawson, as Eric Dier will have to play right-back against QPR and Younes Kaboul is somewhat bizarrely the fittest and most match-ready of Spurs' central defenders.

In midfield there are plenty of big names that need some playing time. Nacer Chadli, Mousa Demble, Paulinho and Sandro have all had either none, or very little of a preseason. Lewis Holtby and Andros Townsend should also start, after their involvement as substitutes against West Ham.

Up front, Pochettino has the choice of Harry Kane or Roberto Soldado. He might even play both, with Kane in a deeper No. 10 role, with Soldado as the spearhead. The Spaniard's role in this game might prove an indicator as to how much of a future he has at White Hart Lane.

All in all, it promises to be a very experienced starting lineup. The aim should be to pick up a positive enough result so that the younger talents at Tottenham might be able to feature in the second leg.

If Pochettino wants to pick up more points than Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood managed between them last season, an easy fix is to get better results after the Europa League's dreaded Thursday nights. It requires a clever juggling act, but he has the squad at his disposal to pull it off without dropping the ball.

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