Tuesday, October 03, 2006

UEFA Cup draw

Lost in all the whirlwind of playoff baseball, UEFA made the drawing for the group stage of the UEFA Cup today, separating the 40 remaining teams into eight groups of five. The entire draw can be found here.

Spurs weren't exactly gifted by the draw, although it could have been much worse for them. For example, Newcastle got shafted into Group H with Palermo, Celta Vigo, and Fenerbahce. Spurs were placed in Group B, with Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Brugge (Belgium), Besiktas (Turkey), and Dinamo Bucuresti (Romania).

The first matchday is Thursday, October 19, and as luck would have it, the schedule has Spurs flying to Istanbul to take on Besiktas exactly two days before they're slated to play West Ham at White Hart Lane back in north London. That game is followed by a Wednesday evening Carling Cup match with League Two's Milton Keynes Dons and then a trip to Vicarage Road the following Saturday to visit Watford. The West Ham game may be moved back to Sunday afternoon, but it's still, for those of you keeping score at home, four games in ten days which is a heavy workload regardless of the competition, especially when only one of those games is at the Lane.

On Thursday, November 2, Spurs play their second UEFA Cup group game at home against Brugge, then travel to Germany for a November 23 match against Bayer Leverkusen, and finish up the schedule at home to Dinamo Bucaresti on December 14.

The strategy here should be simple. Besiktas seems to be the game least crucial for a result, given that it's in Turkey and a London derby is just a few days afterwards. To combat the rabidity of the Turkish supporters, European experience and a defensive mentality will be a plus here. I'd like to see Mido up front with Robbie Keane supporting him, a midfield of Murphy, Huddlestone, Davids, and Ghaly, and a back four of Lee, Ledley, Dawson (maybe Ant'ny Gardner just to get him some pitch time), and Stalteri. A draw there would be a plus, a win would be monumental.

Then a win at home against Brugge should be expected, followed by a draw against Leverkusen, although a point in this fixture would be less necessary if we get one against Besiktas. Spurs drew the same team at the same venue in a preseason friendly that was played without most of Spurs' World Cup participants. Perhaps the biggest schedule break is getting to play Dinamo Bucuresti at White Hart Lane because I would not want to have to go down to Romania needing a result. Two wins and two draws should be enough to progress to the round of 32, as three teams from each group get to advance. Anything more would be gravy.

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