Good evening all. Paul will be here soon enough and ready to type you all the way through tonight's games. If you get here before him, here's a few words from André Villas-Boas on why Spurs are taking the Europa League seriously. Enjoy.
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.
Hugo Lloris is starting: what are we to kick up a disingenuous panic about now?
Spurs: Lloris, Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Naughton, Sandro, Dembele, Lennon, Dempsey, Bale, Defoe.
Subs: Cudicini, Huddlestone, Gallas, Dawson, Sigurdsson, Townsend, Mason.
Lazio: Marchetti, Lulic, Dias, Biava, Cavanda, Ledesma, Onazi, Gonzalez, Hernanes, Mauri, Klose.
Subs: Bizzarri, Ciani, Scaloni, Ederson, Zarate, Kozak, Floccari.
Referee: Ovidiu Alin Hategan (Romania)
Hats off to Andre Villas-Boas for sending out a strong side for tonight's game and let's hope he continues to do so, instead of emulating Martin O'Neill or Tony Pulis, who wasted everyone's time by taking the tournament seriously right up until the latter stages when they surrendered. At least the likes of Harry Redknapp and Gary Megson didn't even pretend to give a fig (and they got their comeuppances too). The attitudes of some English clubs' to the Uefa Cup/Europa League stinks as badly as that of the stuck-up FA gents who saw no value in fraternising with Johnny Foreigner in the early days of the World Cup and international competition.
1 min: Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work they go. With Aaron Lennon as captain, Tottenham win the toss and take kick-off.
3 min: Dembélé is up to his tricks already, slinkily dropping his shoulder and gliding past two Lazio players before an attempt to slide the ball through to Defoe is foiled.
6 min: Ah. There's the down side of fielding strong team in this tournament: Sandro has just copped a fearful clatter from Ledesma and crumpled to the grass. Worried looks soon dissipate, however, when the Brazilian clambers back to his feet. Gingerly, of course. Is football the only walk of life in which the adverb gingerly is regularly used?
8 min: It's been good stuff from Spurs so far. They've dominated possession and occasionally threatened to unhinge Lazio. Sandro sent Lennon scampering down the right with a clever pass. Leenon stuck it into a dangerous area but, with only Defore among three defenders, Lazio dealt with it comfortably.
11 min: Danger! A sloppy header by Walker invited Ledesma to seize possession and he did just that, then centered for Klose, whose header was saved by Lloris.
13 min: Defoe receives the ball 25 yards from goal and surprises everyone by .... shooting. His effort had neither the power nor accuracy to bother Marchetti.
14 min: Bale adopts the Roanldo stance for a 30-yard freekick ... and produces Roberto Carlos-esque results. Straight into the wall.
16 min: A lull. Lazio have slowed the game down and wrestled back a good share of possession.
19 min: Gah! Lovely Spurs play is ruined by a terrible decision at the climax. Defoe and Lennon sliced the Lazio defence apart with a sharp one-two but then Lennon - 12 yards from goal and only the keeper to beat - decided to chip the ball to the marked Bale to his right! No good came of that.
21 min: "Quite a bit (too much) has been made of the situation with Lloris and whatever his actual feelings about it (as opposed to those of Didier Deschamps) he's really only got himself to blame. Seeing as Villas-Boas was after him from before the season started if he hadn't stalled over the transfer he would probably have been first choice for Spurs's opening fixtures and not given Brad Friedel the chance to cement his place with some fine displays. Maybe Lloris should think hard when he comes to the end of his current contract with his agent about whether he's earning his 15%.
22 min: Spurs denied! Bale cut in from the right and then clipped a dainty cross to the far side, whereupon Dempsey dived to head splendidly into the net! But it's chalked off for offside, a hair on Dempsey's left knee having strayed into forbidden territory.
25 min: Spurs have another freekick nearly 30 yards from goal. Bale, Vertonghen and Walker put forward their cases for taking and Bale wins: and t hen does exactly what he did last time, adopting the Ronaldo stance before banging the ball into the wall. Vertonghen next time please! "Quite a bit (too much) has been made of the situation with Lloris and whatever his actual feelings about it (as opposed to those of Didier Deschamps) he's really only got himself to blame," spews David Wall. "Seeing as Villas-Boas was after him from before the season started if he hadn't stalled over the transfer he would probably have been first choice for Spurs's opening fixtures and not given Brad Friedel the chance to cement his place with some fine displays. Maybe Lloris should think hard when he comes to the end of his current contract with his agent about whether he's earning his 15%." I think it's significant that AVB has waited until a European match to give Lloris his debut (overlooking him for all of ... one game prior to that): the one slight weakness in Lloris' game is on crosses and I reckon Spurs want to give him some quality time working on them with Tony Parkes before chucking him into the hurly-burly of the Premier League.
28 min: Lennon's speed is tormenting Lazio on both flanks. If he regularly made the right decision after racing into great positions, he'd be a world-beater, rather than a head-scratcher. Still, Biava couldn't deal with him just, so cynically chopped him down at the left-hand corner of the box. This time Dempsey steps up to take the freekick .... and into the wall it goes.
31 min: A smart intervention from Vetonghen stops Klose from teeing up Mauri for a very presentable chance after a Lazio break.
35 min: It's a tight game. But Bale manages to create space for himself down the left and then hoiks in a decent cross. Well, it would have been a decent cross if, say, Adebayor or Dempsey was awaiting. But the nearest player was Defoe, several yards below.
39 min: Since this game has sunk into a minor rut over the last few minutes, how about an update from the other match in this group? Robert Beric has given Maribor a 1-0 lead over Panathinaikos. So there.
41 min: That's more like it! Vertonghen tried a clearing header but it fell to Gonzalez at the edge of the area and he volleyed it firs time over Lloris and ... into the crossbar!
43 min: Onazi tries his luck from 30 yards. Wide.
44 min: The ref blows for half-time 13 seconds early. I know how he's feeling.
Question: What's the most unexpected insult that's ever been directed at you? I only ask because my colleague, the top wordsmith Tom Bryant (@TomBry), was telling me during one of the many lulls in the first half about the time that the Iron Maiden front-man Bruce Dickinson berated him for being "a liar and a scumbag ... with bad grammar". It was all a dreadful misunderstanding of course, and Dickinson no longer wants to bring the reporter to the slaughter, but for a while there Tom was sadder than Cristiano Ronaldo.
46 min: Lazio set the second half in motion. If you want, you can amuse yourself by saying that to the tune of a famous Smokey Robinson and Al Cleveland number. In other news, Ryan Dunne was once on the end of an unexpected insult. At least he thought he was. "A doctor once told me, after I fell off a big hill, that I survived due to having 'an abnormally thick skull'. Although this surely constitutes a superpower, I interpreted it as regrettable medical validation for an insult that teachers and girls have long hurled my way."
49 min: Lloris comes to successfully claim a cross. That'll do him good.
51 min: A beautiful pass by Hernanes to Klose opens up the Spurs defence, but the German then mislays an attempted pass to Mauri. Spurs go down the other end nearly score: first Lennon tumbled after Defoe nipped the ball through to him - the ref ignored strong appeals for a penalty and Dempsey tried to scramble the breaking ball into the net, but Lazio defenders crowded him out.
54 min: Lulic nuts a Tottenham corner clear. As an aside, I must tell you that Naughton has had a solid enough game at left-back ... but I still believe that Assou-Ekotto's injury is the perfect chance to deploy Bale at left-back and Sigurdsson ahead of him (Pienaar would have been perfect if he ere still at the club). That would give Bale more space in which to get up a gallop and have the additional merit of enabling them to field yet another attacking midfielder.
59 min: Dempsey slips a fine ball through to Bale, who is sudenly one-on-one with the keeper ... until the ref correctly pulls him back for offside. "Any idea what Hernanes's temperament is like?" wonders David Wall. "Just thinking that he be a headline-writers dream (assuming the pronunciation in commentary is right) if he were to lose his rag and earn a red card, described in the morning papers, 'Hernanes goes bananas'." I don't know what his temperament is like. But I do know he sleeps from time to time. Yes, "Hernanes wears pyjamas".
61 min: Dias booked for dragging down Bale as the Welshman threatened to burst through the middle.
63 min: Gonzalez is lucky to escape a booking as he scythes down Lennon, conceding a freekick at the right-hand corner of the Lazio box. Bale will take it ...
64 min: Bale's delivery was good, so was Sandro's run ... but his header was diabolical, as he glances it wide from six yards.
66 min: Another Bale freekick from the right causes problems, but Dias hooks the ball away just as Caulker seemed set to pounce from close range. The Tottenham threat is mounting though ...
69 min: Another Tottenham goal is disallowed. Caulker met Bale's in-swinging corner with a towering header that bounced into the net from six yards but the ref rules that he got illegal leverage off Mauri. That seemed pernickety to me: both players were jostling each other and Caulker was simply stronger.
71 min: A buffoonish dive by Gonzales actually fools the ref, who awards the defender a freekick and gives Lazio a chance to stem the rising Spurs pressure.
74 min: Bale has been down injured for over a minute now, beating the ground in apparent pain. Cavanda fell on him after he put in a cross ... and as soon as the ref stops play, Bale's recovery begins. "I was at an 'exclusive' event where the band Sugar was performing songs from their latest release and the main attraction was the bands' front man Bob Mould (formerly of Husker Du fame)," discloses Andrew Coote. "After walking around talking to people, listening to the band perform, picking up swag, etc. I was approached by an attractive woman who said to me 'Are you anybody?' I looked up, smiled and said 'nope I'm nobody.' She was genuinely upset and walked away in disgust." Was she anybody?
76 min: Spurs substitution: Dempsey off following a decent performance, Sigurdsson on.
78 min: Dembélé beats four players in midfield and bears down on the box. But Lazio are defending with great number and diligence and they prevent the Belgian from slipping a pass through to Lennon.
81 min: As Lloris clasps another corner, Lazio make a change: Zarate on, Onazi off.
82 min: Spurs substitution: Lennon off, handing the armband to Defoe as he goes, and Townsend on.
85 min: Lazio hvave been all about clinging on for a draw for about 25 minutes now. Mauri becomes the fourth player to get a booking for deliberately nipping Tottenham move in the bud.
88 min: Walker clips in a freekick from the right. Bale gets a head to it but Lazio block it and then scramble it away, with even Klose helping out. "Of all Spurs's transfer business the move I found the oddest was the deadline day purchase of Dempsey," dribbles David Wall. "Don't get me wrong, he's an excellent player but he seems very similar to Sigurdsson who they already had at that point. Was it just an exercise in annoying Liverpool, or more tactical to buy up players so that your competitors can't have them like Milan did during the 90s?" I don't think it was that complicated, David: like you said, he's an excellent player he was real cheap. Easy decision to make.
90+1 min: Naughton lofts a long cross to the back post. Townsend rushes in unmarked. The angle is too acute to shoot but cutting it back could prove profitable ... so he shoots. Wide.
Full-time: That was tight, and almost something that rhymes with that. The ref played a negative part too, twice ruling out goals that could have been allowed to stand. Lazio threatened in the first half but early in the second decided that they'd happily take a point from this and defended well enough to subdue Tottenham for long periods.