In less than 24 hours, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur will be welcoming Croatian outfit Dinamo Zagreb to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as both sides look to progress to the quarter-finals of UEFA’s secondary club competition.
Unlike Tottenham, Dinamo Zagreb were forced to work a little bit harder to qualify from the round of 32, overcoming FC Krasnodar 4-2 on aggregate whilst Spurs were comfortable 8-1 victors over Austria’s Wolfsberger.
This tie should be significantly harder for the Lilywhites, and for good reason. Led expertly by Zoran Mamic, Dinamo are currently top of the Croatian first division with a superb record having scored 57 goals in 23 games, leading Osijek by two points with a game in hand (Soccerway).
This may not sound like too impressive a stat to the casual fan given the apparent weaknesses you’d imagine there being in Croatian football, however, you can only beat what’s in front of you and Dinamo are doing that superbly whilst also fighting on in Europe.
In terms of players to watch out for, Mourinho and co in North London will be well aware of the fact that Bruno Petkavic scored two of Dinamo’s four goals against Krasnodar across the 180 minutes of the tie, and the 26-year-old is the top scorer for the club in the Europa League this season with four goals in six games (Transfermarkt).
Alongside Petkavic is another threat to keep an eye on going into this clash, a tidy winger who comes in the form of Mislav Orsic. The 28-year-old has got bags of pace and is strong in front of goal to boot, having scored 12 and assisted five goals in 30 games in all competitions this season (Transfermarkt).
Orsic also grabbed a few headlines last season when he popped up and grabbed a hat-trick in the Champions League, scoring three of Dinamo Zagreb’s four goals in a 4-0 win over Atalanta (BBC). He may no longer be playing Champions League football, but that shows exactly the level that the experienced winger can produce, and Spurs need to be wary.
It also must be said that whilst Spurs pummelled eight goals past a sorry Wolfsberger, this Dinamo side are defensively solid, having kept four consecutive clean sheets coming into this one and conceding just two goals in their previous eight games in all competitions.
This will be a tough nut to crack for the Lilywhites, that much is certain, but with Mourinho certainly not sneering at the Europa League so far this season a strong side will be expected in North London for this first leg clash, even if there is the looming derby clash with Arsenal on Sunday to think about.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Dinamo have had to deal with Spurs. Thirteen years ago back in 2008 we saw Daniel Levy wrap up a deal worth around £16m to bring a young Luka Modric to White Hart Lane from Dinamo Zagreb, and he’s now a Ballon d’Or winner.
The young Croatian enjoyed an incredible four seasons with Tottenham (Transfermarkt) before then departing for Real Madrid, a deal which saw Spurs turn a tidy profit on the initial £16m they paid for him (The Telegraph), but Modric was forged in Croatia, and he must serve as a reminder that this Dinamo side will have bags of talent.
Should the Lilywhites be able to run up a tidy first leg lead then it should bode well before travelling to Zagreb for the second clash between the sides next week, but nothing can be taken for granted in this clash, despite many fans potentially looking at it as one of the “easier” draws that they could have got.