Take a dive in Dnipropetrovsk



One of Tim Sherwood's best results was losing 2-1 at home to West Ham. The bubble blowers were merry at the time, but little cheer survived two brutal encounters with Manchester City, although their 9-0 aggregate mauling looked relatively respectable compared with our 11-1 total against the same opponents this season.

Without a double header against such unforgiving opponents, Sherwood mixed and matched as best as he could with a talented but unbalanced squad, and has secured a run of results beyond reasonable expectations. Now, why throw all that away for the gruelling, thankless slog known as the Europa League?

The gaffer left wriggle room in applying his usual positivity to the pre-Ukraine assessment. "I love it and there are a lot of games coming up. We are out of all the other competitions and we have got a big enough squad. There will be opportunities for other people to play and the games will come thick and fast on Thursday and Sunday. We might have to rest a few and change the selection."

Somewhere between Redknapp's bugger this approach and AVB's rapture, lies a Sherwood. We want to be ambitious and honest, he seems to be saying, but it's not as important as the league.

A few games ago, when it seemed the Top 4 was fanciful, I would have piled some eggs into the Europa basket and gone for it. Two contrasting but massive victories have thrown us back into the frame, and I don't care how good Liverpool can be at home, they are fallible away, short on depth, and inexperienced when it comes to the stretch and everything hurts. United and Everton are still involved, but fading at the wrong time.

Europa games will take place 8 Thursdays out of the next 12 league matchdays up to the final. In the week between Chelsea and Arsenal we could expect a trip to Lisbon. Looking ahead, we might be warming up for a decider at Anfield with an oddessy to Odessa.

I hope the few Sherwood rests will always include Lloris, Vertonghen, Kaboul, Walker, Rose, Dembele, Sandro, Paulinho, Townsend, Lennon, Eriksen and Adebayor. We've played this game with the Europa before. There can hardly be a team that has inhabited this specific tier for so long and with as little reward. Six out of the last eight years we have competed in the Europa, without ever passing a quarter final.

Not to deride our efforts in Europe, which have thrown up some fantastic occasions. Last year's wins over Inter and Lyon spring to mind. But we inevitably run out of legs due to the marathon nature of the competition. And it inevitably damages domestic form.

The results are too obvious to dispute. Newcastle's collapse after a 5th place finish in 2012. Liverpool last year, Swansea this. Mangers like Alan Pardew and Mauricio Pocchetino openly regard the EL a punishment, championship managers too.

The problem is the competition design, which is appalling. Bloated, endless, excitement-free. Hundreds of teams shovelled into a huge vat on such dubious merit as their nation's fair play ranking. An entire half season of 19 games to make the final, typically taking in the farthest reaches of the continent. Cast into the oblivion of the Thursday-Sunday cycle.

With Uefa gorging on its monstrous cash cow the Champions League, the Europa League has become a neglected and deformed cousin. The half-assed rebranding that led to a group phase replacing the knock-out took away all the drama, as did the move to include too many teams of provincial park quality.

I'm for taking cups seriously. I was at the League Cup finals in 2003 and 2008, and apart from the shit canned music from the PA, those were devastating and fantastic days. I dream that one day we will win an FA Cup semi-final, unlike the last five times. Tottenham's heritage and history is built on cups. We're not the mechanical league grinders of Liverpool or Manchester United, but consistently throughout history we have found ways to slay the giants and pull out trophies.

But this cup is poisoned. It is a tenth-rate afterthought that deserves a boycott. So I want to see Gomes getting some minutes, and not in goal.

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