Bale, Lennon and Defoe are absent for the Europa League tie but André Villas-Boas's team are banking on their away record
Within seconds of Phil Jagielka's equaliser for Everton at White Hart Lane on Sunday the wisecrack had emerged on Twitter. 'Bale would have saved that.' The one-liner satirised the notion that Tottenham Hotspur are a one-man team and also that there is no end to Gareth Bale's talents.
But if everybody can agree that every club would miss their best player, particularly one who is in contention for the end-of-season individual awards, Tottenham's anxiety runs somewhat deeper, as the manager, André Villas-Boas, shapes a game-plan that he hopes will culminate in Europa League progress against Basel; his team take a 2-2 draw from London into the quarter-final second leg here on Thursday night.
The absence of Bale to the ankle damage he suffered in the dying moments of the first leg has been compounded by the losses of Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe to knee and abdominal injuries respectively and it has raised the spectre that misfortune is striking at Villas-Boas's promising debut season at precisely the wrong time.
The nervousness was pronounced on Sunday, when the out-of-sorts Emmanuel Adebayor drew the ire of the home crowd and Villas-Boas heard boos when he substituted the playmaker Mousa Dembélé as Tottenham trailed 2-1. There were errors and general frustration. Villas-Boas lived every moment on the touchline while Clint Dempsey commented that the atmosphere had been noticeably "tense" in the past three home matches. Before Everton and Basel the team had lost 1-0 to Fulham in the Premier League.
There is the unmistakable sense that Villas-Boas has yet to find the key at White Hart Lane, where Tottenham have failed to win as many matches in the league as they have won, a statistic that has placed their top-four aspirations in peril. The majority of their domestic victories have come by the slenderest of margins and it has regularly been cagey and, too often, fraught.
Release has tended to come on their travels, where they have scored more goals, looked more dangerous and have the second-best record in the Premier League. The way that Villas-Boas sets his team up, probing in possession yet quick and incisive on the counter, seems tailor-made for away games, when opponents carry the fight rather than camping with men behind the ball.
It stands to be a reason for Tottenham to believe against Basel and yet without Bale and Lennon, whose pace has been so fundamental to the club's cavalier performances on the road, and even Defoe, despite his lack of goals since the turn of the year, the optimism is watered down. Nor is it overlooked that Basel, the defending Swiss champions and the team that put paid to Manchester United's Champions League hopes last season, were awfully good in the first leg.
Villas-Boas will turn to Dempsey, Dembélé, Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson to force the issue in creative terms, as he did against Everton, when Tottenham struggled to get in behind their opponents. The rhetoric within the squad remains bullish and there is the desire to prove that they can unhinge Basel without their established attacking trident.
"I just think we've got the quality to win and we've got to be positive," Holtby said. "It's going to be a hard game but we're going to put everything in. We should just bring our game. We can always score a goal away, so I'm positive."
Holtby is right. Away-day blanks are a rarity for Villas-Boas's team. They have failed to score only twice on their travels this season, in the 0-0 draws against Lazio in the group stage of this competition and QPR in the league. Moreover Tottenham feel that the balance of the tie could yet help them. As they discovered in the previous round against Internazionale, after a more extreme first-leg result, when they won 3-0 at home, it is easy to be caught between stick and twist when in the ascendancy. They squeaked through at San Siro after a 4-1 extra-time defeat.
"This is a different second leg, mentally," Dembélé said. "We're going to Basel to win whereas Inter was a different situation. We were thinking, 'Should we sit back, should we go?' Now, it's very obvious and in some ways, it's easier. We can see as well that we're quite strong away from home. I have every confidence we can win."
Tottenham could easily have lost heavily in the first leg, while the injury absentees have mounted the odds against them. Yet they remain alive. They intend to revel in away comforts.
Basel (4-2-3-1, probable): Sommer; P Degen, Schar, Dragovic, Park; F Frei, Cabral; Salah, Serey Die, Stocker; Streller.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1, probable): Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton; Parker, Dembélé; Dempsey, Holtby, Sigurdsson; Adebayor.