Tottenham Hotspur can take a significant step towards qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League with a win away at Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men claimed a 5-0 victory over the Serbian champions last month but head into the game with an away record that will give Red Star plenty of encouragement.
The North London side would have felt a powerful sense of deflation when Everton striker Cenk Tosun robbed them of an away win with a 97th-minute equalizer during a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park in the Premier League on Sunday.
Holding on for just a few more seconds would have given Spurs their first domestic away victory since January 20 – a run of 15 games in total.
As Spurs continue to fester in the bottom half of the table, it is difficult to ignore the question of whether this team, perhaps exhausted and numbed by the methods of Pochettino, has lost its collective spine.
Indeed, it may be no coincidence that the inner mettle that helped to guide Spurs to last season’s Champions League final – something personified by performances away at Manchester City and Ajax – has been exactly what is missing from performances on the road this term.
The trip to a raucous Rajko Mitic Stadium on Wednesday, therefore, will give the watching world a useful indication of how much durability is actually left in a team that is perhaps no longer properly responding to the philosophy of their manager.
A defeat in such a game – against a team that Spurs should beat – can often serve as the final straw for a manager whose future is under intense speculation.
Pochettino only needs to look back at how Red Star deservedly claimed a 2-0 victory over eventual Champions League winners Liverpool in the group stages last season to know that an upset could certainly be on the cards.
With Milan Pavkov leading the line, backed up by an attacking midfield trio of former Chelsea player Marko Marin, Rajiv van La Parra and exciting youngster Mateo Garcia, Red Star possess a dangerous counter-attacking unit capable of hurting teams that fail to take their chances.
Moreover, as a club with 29 league titles, including four since 2014, Red Star is a team that is obsessed with and rather used to winning games – especially at home.
Indeed, while Spurs may feel as if their last domestic away win was a long time ago, Red Star supporters last saw their team lose to another Serbian side at home all the way back in May 2016, with only Ludogorets, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal winning there in Europe since that day.
In other words, Spurs will be met with a wall of noise and defiance reminiscent of a cup final atmosphere on Wednesday, and if recent results are anything to go by, that could prove to be sufficient for nullifying a team that has too often looked lost away from home this season.