In football, European competition is a rare but fantastic opportunity for any club. In 2016 all forms of it should be taken seriously. After the recent turn of events for English clubs, that we see year in year out, Chelsea and Spurs defeats in Europe leave English European hopes on the brink of failure once more. The shortcomings in the Champions league are not due to lack of fight or desire but a genuine lack in quality, the Europa league however, is a different story entirely.
When Spurs fans checked Pochettino’s team selection on a cold Dortmund evening last Thursday you can guarantee there was a feeling of disappointment and one that was fully justified. The Argentine had decided to leave out the core of the Spurs team that has performed so well this season. The SEVEN changes made to the first team after the 2-2 draw in the North London derby included the absence of standout individuals such as Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and talisman Harry Kane. This persistence of not playing a full strength side in Europe’s secondary competition has become an all too common occurrence for English clubs and has cost them in the vast majority of situations it has occurred.
The result itself was no surprise, and even more worrying was the lack of disappointment around the country. Although Spurs threw away the game, they did keep their best players without injury and fully fit for their game away to Villa which they duly won 2-0, however, if the team sheet had been swapped and the weakened side played in the latter of the two games, Spurs would of still picked up the three points at Villa Park whilst not having such a deficit to overcome against Dortmund.
Pochettino said after his sides 3-0 capitulation: “I’ve got no regrets. When we analysed the squad, we tried to pick a starting XI to win the game. “It started okay, but it was a really bad day for us. I’m very disappointed with the result. It was a bad day in the office. We just did not have enough quality.” This blue print answer given by a manger about to drop out of the Europa league, has been used multiple times in the past, most recently with Southampton manager Ronald Koeman and even this season with West Ham manager Slaven Billic.
For teams like West Ham and Southampton the crime is so much bigger. Southampton exited the Europa league after 2-1 aggregate defeat to Midtjylland, ending in a lacklustre performance that showed clear disregard from the manager and players. In this defeat the south coast side threw lost their best ever chance of reaching the Champions League, due to their unrealistic expectation of finishing 4th or better in the league.
The Europa league and its predecessor the Uefa Cup had been used as an opportunity for squad rotation for years, and for good reason, but starting this season the winner of the previous Europa league gains automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League group stage. Sevilla took the competition in their stride in the 2014/15 season and comfortably disposed of all opposition to the delight of their fans, claiming Spain a 5th spot in Europes premier competition for the 2015/16 season.
This season the Europa League is down to the last 16 and for the likes of Liverpool, Lazio and Athletic Club it represents a chance to reach the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League that they are all unlikely to claim via their respective league campaigns, this upgraded prize leaves no excuses for any side that isn’t guaranteed a top 4 finish in their respective league.
The positive sterotype around English football is not what it used to be, our previous position as a powerhouse of European football has all but gone. The opportunity of competing in the Europa league is obvious but oversized egos and unrealistic desires of rich English clubs, once more results in an embarrassing downfall.