Spurs: Is The Europa League Really Worth All That Agg?
The Europa League’s already dubious reputation has taken quite a bashing this season. All the English qualifiers, Wigan, Swansea and Tottenham, have seen their managers fired as the sheer weight of extra games has born heavily on their league form. But last night, for Tottenham at least, it fleetingly looked like there might be a return on all the time and effort invested.
Just after Benfica scored the opening goal in Lisbon, Spurs were over 100/1 to get through to the next round yet when the final whistle went an hour later it felt like they’d gone mighty close to doing it. Thanks to a last minute penalty the Portuguese secured a 2-2 draw on the night but, in the preceding 15 minutes, a previously even game was dominated by Tottenham with two goals for Nacir Chadli and three or four further chances to draw level on aggregate including a reasonable penalty shout.
Of course an exit by two clear goals after a humbling first leg home defeat is what the record books will show but the fans will draw consolation from a host of better-than-expected individual performances notably from Bentelab, Naughton, Fryers, Chadli and the substitute Harry Kane. It was Kane’s introduction along with Christian Eriksen’s that took Spurs to a new level of potency late in the game. (Not for the first time we found ourselves wondering how much better it might have been had Eriksen been on from the start).
Despite the fact it ultimately ended in failure, the game’s exciting conclusion could provide a timely morale boost before today’s game with Southampton after a string of lacklustre league performances and a poor points return of late.
But with the top four almost out of sight, victory over the Saints would promise nothing better than another Europa League qualification. Should Spurs fail to win they’ll start to look over their shoulders because right behind them are Man Utd and Everton with games in hand and Southampton themselves who will fancy their chances of perhaps nicking seventh place and the last European slot.
The last time Spurs finished as low as eighth was 2009 but the resulting absence of European football the following season enabled them to concentrate on the league and achieve Champions League qualification for the first and only time.
So would the fans be devastated by a failure to qualify for next term’s Europa League? Or would they relish the chance to go for a top four finish without the extra ten to twenty games, an opportunity Liverpool have exploited so admirably this season. With the race for fourth now all but over, maybe it’s the race for eighth that now offers the most alluring prize.