Tottenham are looking to move a step closer to the Europa League's group stage, and Kevin Hatchard doesn't anticipate many thrills or spills in Skopje.
"Tottenham will be facing determined opponents in warm conditions, so while I think they'll progress, they might not do so with a swagger."
Shkendija v Tottenham
Thursday September 24, 19:00
Live on Premier Sports 1
Shkendija ready for glamorous challenge
Shkendija, from Tetovo in North Macedonia, are no strangers to glory, having won the Macedonian title in 2011, 2018 and 2019 and lifted the national cup in 2016 and 2018. As a result, the Red and Blacks have plenty of recent European experience, but bar a Europa League clash with Milan a couple of years ago, they have rarely rubbed shoulders with the kind of company they'll keep this Thursday.
Shkendija haven't yet reached the group stage of a major European competition, but they have come close. They reached the Europa League playoffs in 2018, but lost to Norwegian outfit Rosenborg, and that 7-0 aggregate hammering by Milan was at the same stage of the same competition.
The game will be played in the Macedonian capital Skopje, and oppressive heat is expected, with highs of 27 degrees Celsius. Shkendija's attacking burden may rest on the shoulders of forward Besart Ibraimi, who has scored five goals in the domestic league, and two goals already in this competition. The 33-year-old has plenty of experience, and had a season at Bundesliga giants Schalke. Midfielder Armend Alimi is suspended.
Revitalised Spurs keen to maintain momentum
Part of the fascination of football is how quickly the narrative can change, and how it can feature twists and turns to match any drama. After a tepid and limp 1-0 home defeat to Everton on the opening Premier League weekend, Spurs moved out to 5/16.2 in the Top 4 Finish market, and the picture was decidedly grey.
The return of the prodigal son Gareth Bale and the acquisition of tenacious left-back Sergio Reguilon have changed everything. Suddenly, Tottenham are the subject of excited whispers, rather than downbeat murmurs. Regardless of his injury history and his penchant for golf, Bale remains one of European football's most gifted players. Reguilon is a blue-chip acquisition, a mix of tenacity and talent that can become one of the Premier League's best full-backs. He can defend, he can score goals, he can make goals, and if you want to find out how tough he is, bear in mind that he was happy to go in hard on Sergio Ramos in training at Real Madrid.
On the field, Spurs have recovered somewhat. They won 2-1 at Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the previous round, against a team that finished the contest with nine men, and they then blitzed Southampton 5-2 at St. Mary's. Heung-Min Son blasted in four goals against a team that many (including me, dear reader) have tipped to do well this term.
Neither Bale nor Reguilon will make their Spurs debuts in Skopje. Dele Alli has returned to the squad after being omitted by Jose Mourinho for the last two games, with the Portuguese tactician insisting the England international does have a future at the club if he performs well.
Tottenham to make serene progress
It's still early in the campaign, and the conditions in Skopje will be warm. I expect a similar game to the one in Plovdiv, with Spurs having too much quality for their opponents to deal with, but not blowing them out of the water. With Tottenham in the midst of a punishing schedule, it would be a surprise to see Mourinho name his strongest side.
Shkendija have taken 14 points from their first six league games, and they have beaten Sumqayit and Botosani in this tournament, but it'd be a huge surprise to see them trouble Tottenham here.
I'll back Tottenham to win, but there to be fewer than four goals in the match. You can make that combination on the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi at 4/51.83.
Look outside the obvious for scorers
Harry Kane is priced at 8/151.55 to score, with Heung-Min Son available at 5/61.85 after his weekend heroics. Keep an eye on the team news, but it's worth pursuing bigger-priced options here. Players like Lucas Moura 5/42.3 and Steven Bergwijn 5/42.3 are under pressure because of Bale's arrival, and wait for Dele Alli to be added to the market, because he has a point to prove.
On the Shkendija side of things, the in-form Ibraimi is priced at 9/25.3 to score in 90 minutes.