Spurs under pressure ahead of Benfica clash

12 March 2014 01:47

The pressure is on Tottenham Hotspur to perform in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie against Benfica on Thursday, while there are two enticing derbies on the cards elsewhere.

This is a big week for Tim Sherwood's Tottenham side as they look to bounce back from a thumping 4-0 defeat at Chelsea, the meeting with the Portuguese league leaders at White Hart Lane coming ahead of Sunday's north London derby against Arsenal in the Premier League.

Spurs capitulated in the second half at Stamford Bridge and the defeat damaged their prospects of qualifying for next season's Champions League while also turning up the pressure on their rookie manager.

It has been suggested that Tottenham will look to replace Sherwood with experienced Dutchman Louis van Gaal in the summer, but a good result against an in-form Benfica would help the current incumbent's cause.

"We have to keep showing huge character when we've lost in the way we have," captain Michael Dawson, who suffered a hamstring injury during the Chelsea debacle, told the Tottenham website.

"Now it's Benfica over two legs and we've got it all to play for.

"We've got to bounce back then it's Arsenal, and that needs no building up, we know what it means to everyone, the club, the supporters."

Benfica travel to England on a run of 23 matches undefeated in all competitions. Last season's Europa League finalists have won eight consecutive games, all without conceding a goal, and are currently seven points clear at the top of their domestic Super League.

"Tottenham are a top-level English team. It's going to be difficult, but they must also look at Benfica with respect because they will be coming up against an excellent team," said coach Jorge Jesus after his side beat PAOK of Greece in the last round.

The tie evokes memories of the clubs' meeting in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1962, when the late Eusebio's Benfica prevailed en route to lifting the trophy.

Oscar Cardozo could return to the visitors' starting line-up after a back injury but Serbian international midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa will miss the game.

- Derbies in Italy and Spain -

Meanwhile, one of the great rivalries in the Italian game will be translated to the European stage as Juventus take on Fiorentina in Turin.

The form guide suggests Antonio Conte's Juve are the clear favourites - they beat La Viola 1-0 in Serie A at the weekend to go 14 points clear at the top of the table and leave Fiorentina with just one win in six games.

"Obviously I'd have preferred to play another team in Europe but it's motivating for us. We'll have to dig deep and perhaps even raise our game," Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella told his club's website ahead of what is a repeat of the 1990 UEFA Cup final, which Juve won.

There is also a derby in store in Spain, with bitter city rivals Sevilla and Betis meeting at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

Unai Emery's team are seventh in La Liga and won their last two home games against Betis by four-goal margins, while Betis lie bottom of their domestic league.

"We will have our 12th man behind us at home and in front of our own support Sevilla are favourites," insisted Sevilla goalkeeper Beto.

Elsewhere, the 2011 Europa League winners Porto, who recently sacked coach Paulo Fonseca in response to their unsatisfactory form in the Portuguese Super League, could find life tough against Napoli.

The Italians are third in Serie A and their coach Rafael Benitez is looking to again triumph in the competition he won last season with Chelsea.

Benitez also won the UEFA Cup in 2004 with Valencia, the Spanish club who go to Bulgaria this week to face surprise package Ludogorets Razgrad, who have already beaten PSV Eindhoven and Lazio this season.

Lyon host Czech champions Viktoria Pilsen, AZ Alkmaar face Anzhi Makhachkala, and Swiss champions Basel, semi-finalists last season, take on Salzburg, who have won 14 consecutive games, including beating Ajax over two legs in the last round.

Source: AFP