No more novices in Europe

Spurs are favourites to beat Leverkusen despite likely injury loss of Alderweireld

Tottenham striker Son Heung Min scored the winning goal in their last Champions League match against CSKA Moscow.
Tottenham striker Son Heung Min scored the winning goal in their last Champions League match against CSKA Moscow.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • It is a mark of how far Tottenham Hotspur have come that they start as favourites to win what could be a pivotal Champions League Group E fixture away to Bayer Leverkusen today, despite the absence of key defender Toby Alderweireld.

The club have yet to confirm that the Belgium centre-back has joined England striker Harry Kane as a non-starter, but the manner in which Alderweireld left the pitch clutching his knee at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday suggests he will not feature.

"It will be difficult for (Alderweireld) to go," said manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Kane has been out for almost a month with an ankle injury with no date set for his return.

Alderweireld has been in commanding form alongside compatriot Jan Vertonghen at the heart of a Spurs defence that is the Premier League's meanest this season.

However, the Belgian's influence goes beyond preventing the opposition scoring. His raking crossfield balls, delivered with pinpoint accuracy before his injury on Saturday, lay down the marker for the way Tottenham play.

In Alderweireld's absence, Pochettino can either play Eric Dier or Kevin Wimmer alongside Vertonghen in defence.

Wimmer, the Austria centre half, has been on the periphery this season but was a capable replacement last term when called upon.

Injuries apart, Tottenham travel to Germany awash with confidence, even as they prepare to play four games in 11 days.

Midfielder Dele Alli said they should have won their Premier League game at West Brom after spurning several chances in the 1-1 draw.

"We have to keep going and pick ourselves up but there are a lot of positives," he said. "In the next game we have to make sure we put them (chances) away. I can't wait, we can get back out there and get some minutes and get the win."

While Tottenham are the Premier League's only unbeaten side, they stumbled badly in their opening Champions League group game with Monaco, who beat them 2-1 in London.

They bounced back to win 1-0 at CSKA Moscow in their next group match with a goal from prolific striker Son Heung Min, who was rested on Saturday after playing for South Korea but whose sparkling form has made up for Kane's absence.

By contrast, Leverkusen have had a patchy start to the season and come into today's game with two wins from their last seven games.

For all their occasional attacking brilliance, they have proved fallible against lesser teams and on Saturday lost 2-1 at Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

With two points from their opening two group games - one fewer than Tottenham and two behind leaders Monaco - Leverkusen know they cannot afford another defeat.

The German club's sports director Rudi Voller is confident his team will do well.

"We'll be playing in front of a full house against a very good team," he said. "But we tend to do well against teams like that.

"We will put in a good fight and the fans will see a great game, hopefully with a win for us."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'No more novices in Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe