Wolfsberger vs Tottenham | Thursday 18th February 2021, 17:55 | BT Sport
Jose Mourinho and his band of not-so-merry men to Hungary’s Puskás Aréna to face Austrian outfit Wolfsberger AC (or RZ Pellets WAC for sponsorship reasons), just two days after Liverpool defeated German side RB Leipzig 2-0 at the same ground.
His Tottenham Hotspur side have hit a metaphorical, but somehow very literal, brick wall of late; winning just one of their last six games, and seeing four of the seven goals they’ve scored in that time come against Everton in the FA Cup.
The caveat though, is that six of those goals have come in the three games since Harry Kane returned from an ankle injury that kept him out of back-to-back 1-0 losses to Brighton and Chelsea.
They looked completely toothless in those games, so will have to hope he’s now fit enough to start in Budapest and play twice this week, considering there’s a London derby at West Ham looking on the horizon.
Thankfully for them, the competition they’ll be facing here isn’t anywhere near as good as the sides they regularly face in the Premier League.
Wolfsberger currently sit 6th in the Austrian Bundesliga after 17 games, picking up 24 points but boasting a less than impressive -3 goal difference. This match will be their first ever appearance in the Europa League knockout stages, as well as their first competitive meeting with an English club.
They might even consider themselves a little fortunate to be in the knockout stages. After winning just one of their first four group matches, they battled to back-to-back 1-0 victories over Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow to qualify as runners-up.
It’s not quite as scintillating as the path their opponents took, scoring 15 times in six games on the way to topping Group J. It was a group that included another Austrian Bundesliga side, LASK Linz, who currently sit 9 points better off than Wolfsberger in 3rd. Spurs put six goals past them in two meetings and they, in turn, have scored six themselves in two meetings with WAC.
A trend that doesn’t bode well for the ‘hosts’. In fact, Mourinho’s side have scored at least two goals in eight of their nine Europa League games this season (incl. qualifying) and that’s why it makes up part of my main play for this game.
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The other part is one I feel really good about, especially looking at the Austrians’ disciplinary record in the Europa League this season. No side currently left in the competition has picked up more yellow cards than Ferdinand Feldhofer’s side. They earned 18 yellow cards in their six group games, (averaging 3.0 per game) and even saw a man sent off against Dinamo Zagreb.
Tottenham’s opponents were awarded 14 yellows in their six group games, but they never had a referee like they have tonight.
Turkish official Ali Palabıyık has shown 75 yellow cards across 14 games in the Süper Lig and Champions League. At an average of 5.35 yellows per game, he certainly isn’t shy with the cards. He also isn’t shy when it comes to penalties either. Palabıyık gave three penalties in two Champions League games earlier this season, so that’s one to keep an eye on too.
Given his tendency for cards, I’ll be taking a punt on a player card too. That man will be Sven Sprangler to be booked at 4/1 with Betfair. The Austrian midfielder looks likely to start in defensive midfield, with Wolfsberger looking not to lose the tie before the second leg, and will have a job on his hands shadowing Spurs’ attacking midfielders.
Sprangler commits an average of 2.0 fouls per game in the Bundesliga and his tally for the season stands at four bookings in 14 starts across his domestic division and the Europa League – though he recently avoided a booking in a game where he committed five fouls.
I don’t imagine Palabıyık being as lenient as some of the referees in the Austrian Bundesliga are though, which could spell trouble for the midfield man.