Why Europa League qualification may not be entirely bad news for Spurs
12:04 24 April 2014
Hugo Lloris, Tim Sherwood and Tom Carroll give their views on the Europa League, and explain why Spurs could benefit from being involved again next season.
For Spurs, the Europa League is widely regarded as a poisoned chalice, or the worst kind of consolation prize – one which increases the chance of failure next term as well.
A lot of supporters would happily avoid the competition, and Tim Sherwood understands those concerns.
“I know where you’re coming from – people say that if you have less games you have more chance of emulating Liverpool this year,” he said recently.
“The stats don’t lie, it certainly is a benefit [not to qualify]. It certainly helps when you have a whole week to prepare for games.”
That is one side of the argument, but there is a simple argument that it is better to be in four competitions than three – to have a shot at another trophy.
There are also those who feel the club should embrace the opportunity to test themselves against the likes of Inter Milan, Lyon, FC Basel and Benfica, as they have done over the last two seasons – and that includes the players.
Asked for his thoughts on the pros and cons of the Europa League, Hugo Lloris said: “I’m really surprised that you’re asking me this question. The Europa League is a European competition.
“Of course, in the first group stage there are not famous teams, but when you start to play the last 32 and last 16, it starts to be a great competition. When you’re a competitor, it’s always a pleasure to play a European competition. It’s always exciting, it’s always a big challenge, a trophy to win.
“Last year we were close, losing in the quarter-finals to a good team, Basel, and this season we had some regrets after the defeat at home to Benfica – but we were close in the second leg to going through.”
Even that defence of the Europa League ignores the fact that next season’s winners will be given a place in the Champions League, giving Tottenham another route to their primary goal.
Perhaps it is unwise to field the strongest possible XI in the group stage. But, if Spurs opt to field weakened sides next season, the extra games could be beneficial rather than detrimental.
Tottenham will go into next season with a 25-man squad, plus youngsters, and they will all want to play. The Europa League provides regular opportunities to rotate the squad and keep fringe players fresh and happy.
Sherwood said: “It’s good to keep players fit. Mousa Dembele played in an Under-21 game the other night. Those games aren’t great and the Europa League would certainly be better. You use those games as a fitness tool for the experienced players also.
“We’ve got a big enough squad so it was good to use it for some of the fringe players – although I came in at a late stage after the pub teams had been knocked out so it was a bit difficult.”
It is not just first-team players who need game time but youngsters too. The likes of Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, Danny Rose, Tom Carroll and Zeki Fryers have all had useful outings in the Lilywhite shirt against European opposition.
Indeed, Townsend’s breakthrough moment this season came against Dinamo Tblisi, giving him the confidence to embark on a strong run of form for club and country.
Carroll has also underlined the importance of his experience in the competition.
Currently on loan at QPR, the 21-year-old told Rangers reporters: “It’s looking likely that they [Spurs] won’t make the Champions League, but it would be great to still be involved in Europe. There’s a chance for other players to be involved.
“As the competition progresses you get some big games. Last season I played away against Basel.
“For any young player, you feel the benefit of playing games like that. It was a high-pressure game that went all the way to penalties so it was a great experience.”
Ultimately, after two years of falling short in the Premier League, it may be time to abandon the philosophy of fielding strong sides in the group stage and reverting to Harry Redknapp’s modus operandi.
Leave the first team at home and use the competition to give the squad players and youngsters a chance again. If they don’t progress from the group, like in 2011/12, no harm done. Indeed, Spurs finished fourth that season.
On the other hand, if the second string make it through to the last 32 or last 16, it might be worth bringing in the big guns – particularly if the Europa League is beginning to look like the better chance of Champions League qualification.
Whatever happens, there is a strong argument that it is better to be involved, and to have the chance to make these decisions.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs