Newcastle manager Steve McClaren gave a press conference today ahead of their league match against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, and while the Toon boss was very complimentary towards Spurs, he did let slip this nice little soundbite:
"We need to follow the Liverpool win up at White Hart Lane," McClaren told reporters. "We need to put in a performance if we are to get anything.
"Spurs are a good team. They have a good squad of players and they play with a very high intensity. If Spurs weren't in the Europa League they would be title contenders."
Aww, thanks, Steve! That's a super nice thing to say, albeit a slightly backhanded compliment.
On the one hand, McClaren's not exactly incorrect. We've seen in the past how the Thursday-Sunday grind can impact a team. Last season in particular Spurs were pretty dismal after playing on Thursday nights. There's also anecdotal evidence in the form of Liverpool's title-contending run in 2013-14 that suggests that not having to worry about Europe's second-tier competition can be a boon to a club that might otherwise burn out late in the year.
On the other hand, this year Spurs have pretty much proven the opposite. This season, Spurs have two wins, three draws, and zero losses in matches immediately following Europa League fixtures and with the possible exception of the Chelsea match haven't really looked that much off the boil in those matches. This includes Spurs' 5-1 thumping of Bournemouth, a solid 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace, and draws at Swansea, at Arsenal, and home to Chelsea.
Unless you're of the opinion that Spurs really should've taken full points off of Swansea, Arsenal, and Chelsea, it's a little hard to argue that the Europa League has damaged Spurs' league prospects all that much. In fact, you could probably just assume that Spurs are [extremely Michael Caley voice] GOOD, and are a team with a high level of fitness compared to other league clubs. And frankly, whatever happens today against Monaco I feel pretty good about Spurs' chances against Newcastle on Sunday.
McClaren might have been more accurate if he'd left Europa completely out of the equation and simply said "Spurs would be title contenders if they didn't have so many draws." Or even "In this wacky, bizarro-world where Leicester City is atop of the table in December, Spurs actually maybe could still be title contenders." But that probably wouldn't make the papers.