• Villas-Boas to pick strong side for opener against Lazio
• Spurs will use competition to fine tune his style
Tottenham Hotspur may have been shunted into the Europa League by Chelsea's Champions League triumph last season but their manager, André Villas-Boas, has no intention of taking the continent's secondary tournament lightly. The Portuguese has vowed to "embrace the Europa League as if it were the Champions League" and that ambition will be reflected in the strong side he will deploy as Spurs begin their campaign at home to Lazio on Thursday night.
Villas-Boas's predecessor, Harry Redknapp, made a token attempt to win this tournament last season, scattering fringe players throughout his line-ups as he chose to preserve most of his primary resources for the Premier League; Spurs' elimination in last season's group stage almost seemed a relief to then-manager.
Villas-Boas, who won the tournament with Porto in 2011, will tackle the Europa League with a different mindset – he has said the prospect of playing 14 matches, which is what it would take to reach the final in Amsterdam, is a boon rather than a burden, since the more games Spurs play, the more opportunities he has to fine-tune the style of the club he took over in the summer. His top players appear to be on message. "This is a very important competition for us," said Moussa Dembélé, the £15m recruit who is set to be among tonight's starters. "There are good teams in the competition but I think we can do something in it."
Lazio arrive with impressive pedigree. They have won all three of their Serie A matches this season and boast talents such as the veteran German striker Miroslav Klose and the ingenious Brazilian playmaker Hernanes, whom Tottenham reportedly tried to sign over the summer. With Panathinaikos and Slovenian side Maribor the other teams in Group J, Spurs will be expected to progress to the knockout stages but they know a poor start tonight would complicate their journey. "Lazio is a big team and I think Panathinaikos will be difficult too so that's why we have to win this game so we can go [to Greece] with more confidence," said Dembélé.