Tottenham are one win away from the group stage of the Europa League, and Kevin Hatchard doesn't think Jose Mourinho will leave anything to chance...
"Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy are pragmatists at heart, and they know the value of making progress in the Europa League. A weakened team would be a surprise here."
Tottenham v Maccabi Haifa
Thursday 1 October, 20:00
Live on Premier Sports 1
Mourinho and Levy have eyes on the prize
One of the things that links Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and manager Jose Mourinho is their pragmatism. On that basis, this clash with Maccabi Haifa is Tottenham's most important game of the season so far. Success would bring a place in the Europa League group stage, and the millions of pounds that are attached to that progress. This is not a game for rotation, for tinkering or for experiments.
Spurs have had some scares in the qualifying section, but their quality and firepower have seen them survive. They fell behind in Bulgaria against Lokomotiv Plovdiv, but recovered to win 2-1 against nine men. They were pegged back in North Macedonia by a stunning strike from Shkendija's Valjmir Nafiu, but with the score 1-1 Spurs powered to a 3-1 win with goals from Heung-Min Son and substitute Harry Kane.
Tottenham picked a surprisingly strong team against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, a tie they won on penalties after a 1-1 draw. That said, Kane only came on as a second-half substitute, so one would expect him to start on Thursday night. Lucas Moura, Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could all come back into the starting XI. Heung-Min Son is still struggling with a hamstring problem, while Dele Alli was once again omitted from the squad against Chelsea.
Maccabi have shown their quality
Although Rostov aren't quite the team that thrashed Ajax 4-1 four years ago in the Champions League, they are still a well-respected outfit with plenty of experience of the European stage. Maccabi Haifa's 2-1 win in Russia in the previous round of UEL qualifiers was an eye-catching result, and the Israeli side have now won five games in a row in all competitions.
Having ushered in a golden era at Hapoel Beer Sheva (three league titles and two Super Cups), coach Barak Bakhar is now in charge of Maccabi Haifa. They finished second in the top flight last term, and they have won their first two games in the Ligat ha'Al this season. They have come through three qualifying rounds to get this far in the Europa League, and now just one hurdle separates them from the group stage.
Australian veteran striker Nikita Rukavytsya has made a superb start to the campaign. He has scored eight goals in his last six competitive matches, and has found the net in all of those games. The 33-year-old won the Eredivisie title a decade ago with Twente, and he played in the German Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin and Mainz.
Maccabi don't have any fresh injury or suspension concerns. Dutch winger Yanic Wildschut, who had a long spell in UK football with the likes of Middlesbrough, Bolton and Wigan, is likely to miss out after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.
Spurs won't slip up
Tottenham haven't been able to batter their opponents in this qualifying campaign, but when they have needed to go up a gear, they have managed it. Although Maccabi are in good form, and claimed a decent scalp by beating Rostov, this is a big step up.
With Kane likely to lead the attack, I'd expect Spurs to create chances against a team that hasn't managed a clean sheet in any of its last six competitive outings. I'll use the Sportsbook's Same Game Multi to back Tottenham to win, Harry Kane to score and there to be Over 2.5 Goals at 2.18. Maccabi's last five games have all featured at least three goals, as have both of Spurs' UEL games so far.
If Kane doesn't start, Lucas Moura is worth considering, given that he scored in the recent draw with Newcastle, and that he has had five goal attempts in three Premier League appearances so far. That would give a treble of 3.12.
Maccabi to grab a goal?
Maccabi Haifa have forwards in form, and are capable of scoring here, even though I think they'll be overpowered in the end. You can back Both Teams To Score at 2.526/4, and in the To Score market, the in-form Nikita Rukavytsya is a hefty 4/1 to score inside 90 minutes.