Well, we’ve come to the final day of Spurs’ 2016-17 Champions League campaign.
It was mostly terrible.
I won’t remember it fondly, if at all.
But we have one more game to play. And something is actually at stake in today’s game—if we get a result of any kind, we advance to the Europa League. If we lose, we crash out of Europe entirely and suffer the embarrassment of finishing last in one of the competition’s weakest groups.
Of course, if asked to choose between “Europa League” or “embarrassment” some fans might reasonably say “there’s a difference?”
Understandable moaning about the NIT of European soccer aside, we shouldn’t totally dismiss it. In the round of 32 and perhaps even the round of 16 we can play a heavily rotated side. By the time we get to the last eight, should we advance that far, it will be late enough in the season that we’ll have a sense of how good our odds are at cracking the top four. And if it looks unlikely then we’ll be glad to have the Europa League as a path to next year’s Champions League.
One other point to consider: Winning this year’s Europa League is theoretically going to be easier than in most years. Ludogorets, Besiktas, Monchengladbach, and Rostov have already dropped down from the Champions League. Sporting, Copenhagen, and Lyon are likely to be the other teams playing today to make the drop with us, should we win. Of that list, Besiktas, ‘Gladbach, and Lyon are all tricky, but none of them are on the level of last year’s big name dropouts—Manchester United, Sevilla, and Leverkusen.
What’s more, the field awaiting us that are already in the Europa League are a cut below last year as well. There are no Dortmunds or Liverpools waiting for us this season. The strongest sides currently in the Europa League are a very middling Manchester United, Fenerbahce, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Schalke, Fiorentina, Southampton, and Villarreal.
To be sure, two-legged ties with any of those clubs would be tricky, but none of them have the doomsday feel that our encounter with Dortmund did last season. What’s more, if we’re simply comparing talent, the only squads in that bunch that match us are Manchester United and, if you’re feeling generous, maybe Roma and Bilbao (but only if you’re feeling very generous). If we fall into the Europa League, we will, in other words, almost certainly be the best or second best team in the competition. It’s not crazy to think we have a good chance at winning it. And a win in the Europa League means a trophy, which would end our depressingly long draught, and a path into next season’s Champions League.
And that, my friends, is why you should be rooting for us to win today.