CSKA Moscow v Tottenham Hotspur
Tuesday September 27, 19.45
BT Sport 3
After 20 minutes of their Group E opener against Bayer Leverkusen, CSKA Moscow looked well on the way to a good, old-fashioned thrashing. Goals from Admir Mehmedi and Hakan Calhanoglu had put the Bundesliga side into a commanding lead and their Russian visitors looked to be on the brink. But CSKA mounted a stirring comeback, responding through Alan Dzagoev and drawing level when Roman Eremenko found the net.
That point, which had looked unlikely ahead of kick-off and close to impossible after their appalling start, will have given Leonid Slutsky's side hope that they could just get something from one of the tougher Champions League groups. CSKA may lack the firepower of yesteryear but have plenty of grit and will be no pushovers.
Mauricio Pochettino's charges have been ticking along nicely domestically: the 2-1 win at Middlesbrough this weekend was their third straight victory in the Premier League. That result lifted Tottenham to second in the table, behind only Manchester City, and underlined their credentials to mount another title challenge.
The only blot on the Spurs copybook so far this term came in their European opener against Monaco. The performance at Wembley - especially in the first half - was limp, allowing the Ligue 1 side to roar into a two-goal lead that never looked especially at risk even after Tottenham pulled one back.
Since then, the visitors here have lost Harry Kane to an ankle problem, depriving them of their attacking focal point. Heung-Min Son has made up for some of the shortfall with some excellent performances but question marks remain over Vincent Janssen's ability to lead the line. Mousa Dembele, Moussa Sissoko, Danny Rose and Eric Dier all join Kane on the sidelines for the trip.
CSKA have been going well in the Russian top flight, especially at home, where they have won seven of their eight league games in 2016, conceding just twice. The one failure came this weekend, against Krasnodar, but with mitigating circumstances: Slutsky rotated a touch, leaving the likes of Dzagoev on the bench.
The Russians have lost only one of their last seven Champions League games on home soil, denying some quality opponents. So the 3.3512/5 available on them to win here could look tempting.
Yet Tottenham undoubtedly have the greater quality and come into this one motivated: they will be desperate to make up for their Monaco disappointment, knowing that anything less than a win here would leave their Champions League campaign hanging by a thread ahead of two tricky appointments with Bayer Leverkusen.
Spurs are 2.427/5 to win, but perhaps the smarter play, given that CSKA have held the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Roma in Russia over the last two years, is to take the draw out of the equation. Tottenham Draw No Bet is a reasonable 1.715/7.
Spurs were slow starters in their first few Premier League games, often putting on the after-burners late on to grind out results. They came out of the blocks quickly against Middlesbrough and there is a sense that Pochettino's gruelling pre-season fitness schedule is starting to bear fruit, but there still could be a safety-first approach here given the stakes.
CSKA have managed a few early goals in recent matches, but after the nightmare start against Leverkusen, we can probably expect them to be rather circumspect here; they won't want to given themselves a mountain to climb again. With that in mind, Draw/Tottenham holds some appeal at 6.611/2.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
The goals have been flowing at either end in recent weeks, but a glance back at results from past month suggests that CSKA are more of an 'unders' side: their first six games of the season snuck under the line. Up front, Everton flop Lacina Traore is the main man, but he hasn't really been a reliable scorer since the 2012/13 season, meaning much will depend on the home midfielders chipping in.
Tottenham have had a couple of sizeable wins but with Kane absent and the defeat to Monaco lingering in the backs of the players' minds, there might not be fireworks on Tuesday. Pochettino is probably tempted to play Son in a false nine role, which could work, but would lead to a more counter-attacking approach. Take the unders at 1.814/5.
Roman Eremenko is the pick of the CSKA players: the Finland international has three in eight league games, scored against Bayer Leverkusen and will be given freedom to join the attack. 3.7511/4 looks a reasonable price.
With no Kane, Son would be great value at 3.39/4 if he is selected at the tip of the attack. This is probably a good option to monitor in-play.
Also worth a look is Erik Lamela at 3.953/1. He looks certain to start having been left out of the starting XI for the third consecutive league game at the weekend. That is no doubt an annoyance to the Argentine given his lively early-season form and he is probably wary of coming to be seen as a cup specialist. A goal here would help convince Pochettino he is worth playing against Man City at the weekend.
Back Tottenham Draw No Bet at 1.715/7
Back Under 2.5 goals at 1.814/5