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.