Why The Europa League Will Help Spurs Challenge For The Title

Thursday nights on Channel 5 might get you a barracking from other clubs, but in terms of keeping the whole squad fresh and motivated it could be the best thing that has ever happened...
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Thursday nights on Channel 5 might get you a barracking from other clubs, but in terms of keeping the whole squad fresh and motivated it could be the best thing that has ever happened...

As I slumped further into the sofa watching Spurs despatch Anji Makhachkala Thursday evening - Alex McLeish’s desperate struggle to stay awake in the co-commentators seat was the only real entertainment - I found myself asking: ‘what’s the point?’.

But the big existential questions are for another time and place. One thing’s for sure, playing in the Europa League gives Spurs a big advantage at this stage of the Title race. (Yes, that’s right, I said Title race. That’s what Tottenham are in. If you don’t believe me, ask Jose Mourinho or look at the bookies’ odds).

To understand why Europe’s poor relation of a cup competition is such a plus, consider the alternatives. If Tottenham were in the Champions League they’d play high profile, high-pressure midweek games against tough opposition. To rotate the squad would be to risk defeat and early exit. But to pick the best eleven for every game would risk over taxing those that play and disgruntling those that don’t. These are the problems faced by Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Man United and we’ve already seen home defeats to Basel and Bayern Munich for Chelsea and City prompting talk of crises. Spurs meanwhile have won all four Europa games, scoring thirteen times without reply.

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But what about Liverpool, who failed to qualify for Europe at all, haven’t they got it easiest? While the others traipse round Europe they get to watch with their feet up in front of the telly, which means fresher legs for Premier League games. Given Liverpool’s relative paucity of premium personnel, this might be for the best. But with the kind of squad Spurs have, newly enriched with depth and quality and with the best eleven yet to emerge, the last thing required is six days off between games. Andre Villas Boas needs everyone to play regularly so that they all stay match sharp, they all feel involved and they all get a chance to stake a claim for first choice status.

If Soldado, Eriksen and Townsend need any extra motivation on Sunday against West Ham they need only consider how ready Defoe, Holtby and Chadli have proved themselves to step into their shoes.

The Beauty of the Europa League is that it allows AVB to keep all the squad involved and sharp and motivated, without the debilitating demands of the Champions League.

The consensus right now is that this season’s title race will be close and it will involve up to six teams. The smallest advantages here and there are likely to make a difference. Tottenham’s Europa League participation could turn out to be an unlikely trump card.

@theodelaney is a writer and film director with @hotspur_argyle, a director of @fantasistaart and a regular contributor to the @spursshow