Europa League – a nuisance?
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There has been much comment this week about the Europa League – whether we should take it seriously, whether we will take it seriously, and whether Harry Redknapp’s comments about it being “a nuisance” were ill-advised.
Should we take the Europa League seriously?
Is wining a trophy or finishing 4th more important? Can we compete in Premier League and the Europa League without making mass changes for each game? If not, should we prioritise one over the other?
I don’t think there’s a simple answer to any of those questions. Fans are divided on whether they would trade finishing 4th for winning the Europa League – the “cup glory” vs “Champions League” debate, which has been had many times in pubs and on message boards over the last few years. On that issue, Redknapp therefore cannot really win.
I would personally argue, however, that we do not need a full-strength team to progress beyond the group stage of the Europa League. Our squad is currently light due to injury, but when players are back (and most are progressing well on that front), we can almost field two full teams of experienced, quality players – the second best of these should be good enough to get us out of the group in my opinion.
Ignoring that, it is interesting to look at our results in league matches after the Champions League games last year.
Young Boys A 17th August
Stoke Award A 21st August – WON
Young Boys H 25th August
Wigan Athletic H 28th August – LOST
Werder Bremen A 14th September
Wolves H 18th September – WON
FC Twente H 29th September
Aston Villa H 2nd October – WON
Inter Milan A 20th October
Everton 23rd October – DREW
Inter Milan H 2nd November
Bolton A 6th November – LOST
Werder Bremen H 24th November
Liverpool H 28th November – WON
FC Twente A 7th December
Chelsea H 12th December – DREW
AC Milan A 15th February
Blackpool A 22nd February – LOST * 7 day gap.
AC Milan H 9th March
West Ham H 19th March – DREW * 10 day gap.
Real Madrid A 5th April
Stoke H 9th April – WON
Real Madrid H 13th April
Arsenal H 20th April – DREW * 7 day gap.
If I had the time, I would look at points achieved in the games after Champions League matches, compared to points achieved in other games, and also the number of changes made to the starting eleven for each game. As it is, I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t do that badly in matches when we had played a European game a few days before, so Redknapp’s insistence on making wholesale changes is perhaps not as essential as he thinks.
Development squad involvement
That said, I personally think that the Europa League is a perfect opportunity to give young players a chance to progress, away from the rigours of the Premier League. Liverpool saw last season how it is possible to use a blend of youth and experience in their Europa League teams, and reaped the benefits of giving youth a chance when the likes of Spearing, Kelly, Wilson, Shelvey, etc gave them genuine options at the end of the season (and are still in and around their first team squad).
Our development squad is full of young players who are now at the point where they need to be given the occasional game to see where they are in terms of their progress – players like Townsend, Carroll, Kane, who have been out on loan and done well, and now need to be integrated into their first team squad and given a taste of first team football at Spurs.
Redknapp’s declaration that the Europa League is “a nuisance” is frustrating on a number of levels. Firstly, it shows that he doesn’t see the competition as a priority or one that he’s bothered about winning, which irritates the fans (particularly those that want to win a trophy at any cost).
Secondly, if he does give young players a chance to impress (and it seems that this is the route that he’s taking), it doesn’t send a good message; how do they feel knowing that they are being used as fodder in a competition he doesn’t care about? Does this motivate them to perform?
The final issue is a relatively simple one, but one that many would see as the most important – ticket prices. If Redknapp is going to play a second (or even third) string side (which, at the moment seems to be his intention), the club should consider lowering ticket prices for the Europa League matches accordingly. Our fans, I’m sure, are not travelling to Greece expecting to see a full strength team, but I think a number of people will be disappointed if we do not put out some senior professionals.
The talk after the Hearts home game was that many were disappointed with the showing. Whilst I am genuinely excited about watching our Academy products, I can understand that many fans are not, and paying a substantial entrance fee to see 18 year olds that they have not heard of is not everyone’s cup of tea. If the club wants to sell out the home legs and create a good atmosphere, they need to meet fans halfway.
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One thing you don't mention is that generally speaking the top clubs don't just field a whole team of kids - they integrate them into the senior squad. We should be including one or two developing players, perhaps as subs, etc, rather than just dumping a whole team of them in an European away match and seeing if they survive.
The results we managed to get last year after the Champions League games were solid. We used, as far as I remember, almost the same players in the matches following the CL ones (more or less...)
Moving on from that and to ticket price, of couse there should be a drop in prices. Last year we played teams such as Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, A.C Milan and Real Madrid, and with no disrespect to Europe League, that was Champions League, which means bigger teams -> more exciting matches -> bigger interest from media and spectators. This year in Europe we will face more or less unknow clubs from Ireland and Greece. That of course means less interest from all sides and therefore the ticket prices definitely should be lowered.
I don't know if Harry takes the competition seriously or not, but he takes it less serious than Champions League - thats for sure. I expect the players, whether it is Pavlychenko og Kane to perform. This is the young players chance to shine just as you mention about Liverpool.
I have big hopes that this year we will see more young players getting a break trough into the first team. I'm not gonna comment about Harry taking the competition seriously or not, but I think he has a point in giving the kids a chance and i support it 100% as I think it will pay us back in the end.
We had draws against West Brom, Birmingham, Wigan and Wolves and a loss to West Ham in matches preceding CL games.
Against that backdrop, Redknapp needs to prioritise the Premiership over the Europa League. That does not mean to disparage the Europa League to the extent reported (and the story of playing on Thursday v Wednesday and Sunday v Saturday being a problem is just a nonsense which Redknapp should drop) - players and fans alike still want the club to play Europa League and the club earns more - and the large number of matches encourages the blooding of younger players. That should not mean playing all youngsters in each match, but to play mainly some of the the 25 man squad plus a few youngsters - Liverpool had a huge benefit last season by developing several youth players - and I hope that Spurs can give games to Townsend, Kane, Carroll, Parrett, Fredericks et al, although mor necessarily in the same match !
Yes playing Europa League adds many more games and requires Redknapp to use all the squad - but Spurs have a good squad and more promising youngsters than I can ever remember soi it should not be a problem .... amd if we go back into the Champions League the number of games will be the same, so Europa League is also a training ground for Redknapp to rotate the squad !
McSpang - whilst I agree on the whole, I do think there's something to be said for bringing players through with other players they know well - understanding both on and off the pitch, etc.
madsnTHFC - you talk a lot of sense. :)
Anon @ 22:41 - very interesting point! I should have picked up on that. Eyes on the big game, etc.
Stumps - I think many people share your viewpoint. I personally think we can have UEFA success AND use the kids...
Spursidol - some great points, and I think tonight vindicated your (and my own) opinion that the kids should get a chance.
David Weeks - we can agree on that then!