There are lots of reasons why one could hate the Europa League, but the one that most managers complain the most bitterly about is the schedule congestion. And as big of a cheerleader for Europa as Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is, he's pretty upset today about Spurs' turnaround between today's match in Azerbaijan and Sunday's crucial league tie against Chelsea.
Spurs play today at 6 p.m. UK time against Qarabag in Baku, 6,000 miles away from London. They play the Sunday early match at noon UK time against Chelsea. That's less than 48 hours from the time they return home to kick-off in a London derby. And Poche is none too pleased.
"We need more help from our country and the Premier League. That's the reality.
We play Thursday, have a long trip home and then play Sunday morning, in this case against Chelsea who played on Tuesday. So they have three days to prepare and we have one day. I don't like to complain but it's an advantage for our opponents.
It's a big, big challenge for us and makes it tough to compete in every competition. At Tottenham we try to win every competition we play in. But you need some help to compete in the same condition we do in Europe."
The schedule is an old, tired topic that comes every year from the mouths of various managers, but in this case Poche has got a pretty good point. Tottenham are going to be most likely favored at home against a Chelsea team that is ten points behind them in the table, but that should be on paper much better than they are. A win against the Blues would make it virtually impossible for Chelsea to make up a 13 point gap to eclipse Spurs in the table by the end of the season. A loss makes it a 7 point gap and it's a whole new ball game.
Chelsea played a Champions League match on Tuesday in Israel, but in effect gets three days to prepare for Spurs. Tottenham gets back Friday, and essentially gets a day and a half to recover and get ready to play the defending league champions.
"I don't know the solution but something needs to be done. We played on a Monday against Aston Villa, so why we can't we play Monday against Chelsea? Neither team have to play in the Capital One Cup.
I don't think it's fair. We need to be able to compete in the same condition as our opponents."
The Premier League can't eliminate schedule congestion when there are so many competitions happening at the same time, but there are thing they could do to help mitigate these kinds of things. It seems like a relatively simple thing, for example, to move this match from the Sunday early slot to Monday. It's not like they didn't see this coming months ago.
This could end up being a moot point if Spurs are able to defeat Chelsea on Sunday, but if the match ends up in a draw or a loss for Tottenham, questions are going to be asked about whether the lack of preparation and fatigue had an impact on the match results, especially when Spurs are riding a 12-match unbeaten streak. Not taking steps to mitigate those questions falls squarely on the Premier League's shoulders.