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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Tottenham have their work cut out it against Barca and Inter

Tough draw also makes it hard for PSV

Dele Alli of Tottenham celebrates with Harry Kane
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Barcelona Ernesto Valverde
Barcelona have become the kings of Spain, which would have been perfectly fine but for the fact that their arch-rivals have been mopping up four Champions League trophies in the past five years.

During the same period Barca have claimed Champions League glory just once to leave the iconic Carles Puyol "furious" despite winning four Spanish Cups and three La Liga titles.

"I think the solution comes from getting our priorities straight," added Puyol following their latest domestic double as Barca lost just once in La Liga.

However, their third straight Champions League quarter-final elimination hurt more than most - Barca lost a 4-1 first-leg advantage against Roma - and there is pressure on manager Ernesto Valverde to bring continental success.

Andres Iniesta headed to the Far East and a stack of unwanted reserve players exited the Catalan club, enabling them to beef up the squad with the arrivals of Arturo Vidal, Clement Lenglet, Malcom and Arthur. 

Barca are always a massive threat with Lionel Messi around but that is reflected in their odds.


Tottenham Mauricio Pochettino
It has been a difficult summer for Tottenham, who have been hit by significant delays on their new stadium and are the only team in this season's Champions League not to make a signing.

That has been followed by a tough Champions League draw with the club desperately hoping to still be in the competition to host matches at the new White Hart Lane after the group-stage fixtures at Wembley.

Heading to Wembley held no fears for Spurs last season as they beat Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid at their temporary home before exiting the Champions League in unfortunate circumstances against Juventus at the last-16 stage.  

That defeat, combined with yet another FA Cup semi-final loss and a third-place Premier League finish, only increased the belief for many that Spurs are a nearly side unable to take the next step.

However, nine of Tottenham's players reached the World Cup semi-finals, including triumphant France captain Hugo Lloris and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane and should not be dismissed totally.

PSV Eindhoven Mark van Bommel
When PSV trailed Bate Borisov 1-0 in their Champions League playoff they could easily have gone into panic mode but the Eindhoven side composed themselves to comfortably qualify for the group stage and exorcise the ghosts of seasons past.

PSV were rocked by Osijek in last season's Europa League third qualifying round, following on from a nightmare 2016 Champions League campaign when they finished bottom of a group including Rostov.

Those results highlight the Eredivisie's worrying decline - PSV won the league last term - as even the biggest Dutch clubs are losing their top players early in their careers.

That said, right-back Santiago Arias was the only significant on-field loss for PSV as they maintained the services of magnificent Mexican winger Hirving Lozano and added his international midfield teammate Erick Gutierrez.

Lozano and Steven Bergwijn are key men in the 4-3-3 used by Mark van Bommel, the new head coach replacing Phillip Cocu, but the Philips Stadion side have been hammered by the draw.

Inter Luciano Spalletti
They were the team to avoid in pot four of the Champions League and Inter's arrival in Group B has made life tricky for Barcelona and Tottenham, who would have otherwise fancied their chances of making easy progress to the knockout phase.

Inter only just scraped into the Champions League - a dramatic comeback win over fourth-place rivals Lazio on the final Serie A matchday secured their return to Europe's elite competition for the first time in six years - and the Nerazzurri are in no mood for a swift exit.

Radja Nainggolan was an eye-catching arrival from Roma, joined by players of the calibre of Kwadwo Asamoah, Stefan De Vrij, Sime Vrsaljko and Keita Balde, while Mauro Icardi, Serie A's joint-top scorer from last season, should be helped in the goal-getting stakes by new Argentinian hitman Lautaro Martinez.

The side already had two World Cup finalists in Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic plus arguably Serie A's top defender in 2017-18 Milan Skriniar, so they will test Barca and Spurs. 

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Nine of Tottenham's players reached the World Cup semi-finals, including triumphant France captain Hugo Lloris and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane
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