Last season Tottenham Hotspur were desperately unlucky to not qualify for this season’s Champions League. Harry Redknapp steered his side to fourth position and a place in Europe’s premier competition only to lose it when inner city rivals Chelsea won the competition last May.
As a result Spurs will take part in the Europa League instead this season, beginning their campaign on Thursday at the Lane against Lazio.
However simply because they were supposed to be playing in the top flight of European football doesn’t mean that Spurs aren’t prepared to take their Europa League campaign just as seriously. According to Metro, Andre Villas-Boas has explicitly stated that he will field a strong team in Spurs opening fixture Tuesday evening as his team aim for a trophy this season – Tottenham’s last piece of silverware was the League Cup in 2008, with their last European success coming back in 1984.
The Portuguese managers take on the Europa League provides a refreshing change. Whilst Champions League football is regarded with the utmost honour at the club level, Europe’s second tier competition is view without the same respect.
Managers have often implied, or even said outright, that midweek games that require long distance travelling are damaging to their Premier League ambitions and in effect are not worth the hassle. Brendan Rodgers for one has been guilty of such an approach this season – he was reported as saying that the Europa League was not of significant importance for his Liverpool side before their fixtures against FC Gomel and Hearts in the qualifying rounds. However it’s likely that his opinion may have somewhat changed given Liverpool’s dismal domestic start.
That’s what makes Villas-Boas comments so uplifting. Managers and fans alike often look on the Europa League with scorn, yet for what reason. The competition provides just as much as a challenge as the Champions League in some aspects – being able to complete a successful European campaign whilst maintaining domestic performances is no easy feat irrespective of level.
In addition the level of competition is often high, in particular this season. Along with Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle United representing England the Europa League features Inter Milan, Super Cup winners Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Lyon and Steve McClaren’s FC Twente to name a few. Obviously such teams would rather be playing against the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United yet that is not to say the Europa League is inferior.
Villas-Boas decision to field a strong side on Thursday night will definitely sit well with Spurs fans – Harry Redknapp often opted for a weaker side in last season that ended in Spur’s premature exit from the competition at the group stage. Instead Spur’s Portuguese manager will hope his side can enjoy some European success this season beginning on Thursday night at White Hart Lane.
One thing’s for sure, Spurs aren’t taking the Europa League lightly.