After a wait of 48 and a half years, Tottenham will again appear in the competition proper of the European Cup. After a 28-minute scare in Berne last week, Spurs hit back with a 4-0 win against Young Boys at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, sealing a 6-3 aggregate victory and a place in the group stage of the Champions League.
Tottenham discovered their opponents late on Thursday afternoon following the draw in Monaco. Having been placed in the third pot of seeds, a tough draw was always likely and duly arrived as Spurs were placed in Group A with reigning champions Inter. From the second pot of seeds, Real Madrid were avoided and Harry Redknapp’s team will instead face Werder Bremen. Completing the cast are FC Twente from the Netherlands. In drawing Inter, Tottenham will face the competition holders, something they did in their only previous campaign in Europe’s biggest club competition. In the 1961/62 season, Spurs reached the semi-finals only to exit to a Benfica side who had won the 1960/61 trophy. With their matches against 2009/10 champions Inter coming much earlier in the competition, Redknapp will hope his team’s exit does not come along with it.
With a matter of days until the close of the transfer window, the manager does not have a lot of time left to evaluate how well equipped his existing squad is for the task they have been given. Inter will be a tough side to score against, with their goalkeeper Julio Cesar and defender Maicon receiving individual trophies as the best players in their respective positions in Europe during the draw ceremony. The manager who masterminded their Champions League triumph, Jose Mourinho, has since departed for Real Madrid, but in Rafa Benitez they have a replacement who himself has a Champions League title to his name. The squad that Benitez has inherited is largely unchanged from last season, with Mario Balotelli’s departure to Manchester City the headline move to date. The high maintenance forward was not significantly involved in the latter stages of Mourinho’s reign and his loss will not worry Inter unduly in this season’s competition. Inter can still boast players of the ilk of Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Lucio, and they are still hopeful of adding Benitez’s former Liverpool charge, Javier Mascherano.
Werder Bremen will offer a different sort of challenge, with the team that finished third in the German Bundesliga preferring to play a highly attacking game of football. Werder will have to cope without the jewel in their crown following the departure of young midfield star Mesut Ozil to Real Madrid after an impressive World Cup showing. They have signed Felix Kroos, the younger brother of another German World Cup player Toni Kroos, as well as Austrian forward Marko Arnautovic whose two previous clubs are Group A rivals Inter and FC Twente. Bremen were the second highest scorers in the German league last season with 71 goals, just one less than champions Bayern Munich. With the Bundesliga providing more goals per game on average than the other top European leagues, Werder are used to high-scoring games and their open approach may suit the similar stylings of Spurs.
FC Twente, from the city of Enschede, won the Dutch Eredivisie for the first time last season under the guidance of former England boss Steve McClaren. The one-time Manchester United assistant has since left for German side Wolfsburg to be replaced by former Belgium international goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme. Twente join Tottenham as debutants in the Champions League and will be something of an unknown quantity at this level. Spurs lack of pedigree in the competition meant they were only among the third pot of seeds but at least have plenty of experience against top Champions League sides from the Premier League. In contrast, Twente came from the fourth pot of seeds and play at a comparatively lower level domestically.
After the rollercoaster ride of the 2009/10 season where Champions League qualification seemed set to slip away before being clawed back in style, Spurs can now look forward to getting their campaign underway. The scare in Switzerland on the plastic pitch will have taught Redknapp and his players the valuable lesson that there are no easy games at this level, regardless of the opponents, but the important factor was the end result. Tottenham have earned the right to play in the group stages of the Champions League and now it is up to the team to show that this is where they naturally belong. The draw is not the worst case scenario of having two European giants including Real Madrid, but is still tough enough that reaching the knockout phase will be a real challenge. Redknapp has already acted to bring in William Gallas, a player with plenty of experience in the competition, and it will be interesting to see who else arrives in time to boost the Tottenham assault.