I struggle to think of too many moments in the current Europa League campaign that have set the footballing world alight. However, Moussa Dembele picking the ball up just outside the area at the Stade De Garland and lashing a low shot into the corner of the Lyon net, putting Spurs into the next knockout phase of the competition, is an outstanding highlight of a competition that sits in the unforgiving shadows of its lucrative brother; the Champions League.
While Tottenham’s reward; an appetising tie against heavyweights Inter Milan, will no doubt be a gripping two-part saga, it mustn’t be forgotten that two years ago, the very same tie was played out in the more desired European competition. To reach the dizzy heights of the Champions League is the holy grail of club competition. It is a destination which, if grasped, will entice the more acclaimed players to consider your club a genuine option. It is also a destination that Spurs are more than capable of reaching this season.
After the Gareth Bale show continued its tour at Upton Park on Monday, Andre Villas-Boas and co. climbed further up the Premier League ladder into 3rd place. With a North London derby on the horizon and Manchester City a not too distant sight in terms of points, it is an exciting time for Spurs. With so much to play for in domestic terms, the second rate European competition that claims precious energy from players, must surely be dismissed as a target for Tottenham this season.
May 2012 and Atletico Madrid held the newly reformed Europa League trophy aloft, after defeating fellow Spaniards Athletic Bilbao in the final. Less than 12 months on and the side from the Spanish capital were swept out of the same competition by Rubin Kazan. Under normal circumstances, you would expect a side with Falcao at the helm to comfortably beat a Russian side that have had little impact on the European scene. However, Diego Simeone opted to play a weakened team in the competition, instead preferring to focus on the domestic league. For the first time in years, Atletico have the chance to finish above their arch rivals Real Madrid in the La Liga top two. This would give Los Rojiblancos automatic qualification for the Champions League in 2013/14 as well as bragging rights over their enemy from across the city who have been Madrid’s superior team for as long as memory can recall.
While finishing in second place may be too far gone for Spurs, taking a page out of the strategy book at the Vicente Calderon would be a wise decision. Like Atletico, Spurs can gain automatic qualification for Europe’s most prestigious competition next season, as well as the chance to once again finish above their North London foes Arsenal. It would seem like a no brainer but Andre Villas-Boas has expressed his desire to fight in every competition and his track record in the tournament with Porto indicates his passion for the Europa League.
Allowing fringe players like Gylfi Sigurdsson, Thomas Carroll and William Gallas to lead the team in European competition would bring the general morale of the squad up and allow players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Jan Vertonghen to rest and prepare for vital Premier League games. A European trophy arriving at White Hart Lane would be an historic moment. However, Spurs fans would surely prefer to see their team battle with the European elites next season in a competition that is more rewarding in every conceivable way.