Tottenham Hotspur bowed out of the Champions’ League on Wednesday on a high note with a 3-1 victory over hapless CSKA Moscow. The Russian Premier League side will go home with nothing to show for their campaign while Spurs now find themselves in UEFA’s second-tier competition.
I’ve never been shy about my hatred for the Europa League, and I know this is as divisive a topic as it gets when it comes to our beloved Spurs. Before we jump into the preview of who’s in, who’s out, and who Spurs can actually draw, let me get this out of the way:
This is one of the weakest Europa League draws in recent memory. There is no Borussia Dortmund that looks like a buzzsaw ready to cut a team into pieces. There’s also no Europa League Champions Until the Heat Death of the Universe Sevilla for the first time in what feels like decades! They will not be in the EL knockout round as they find themselves still in the Champions’ League. Sure, there are still a few sides that could give Spurs trouble, but top to bottom? There isn’t that team, the one where if Spurs draw them, I would throw my hands up and go “Well, that was fun while it lasted.”
The Premier League race is going to be a tight one, and we have no clue what’s going to happen between now and February 16 when the first leg of the Round of 32 occurs. Europa League is now suddenly a nine-match season to get a spot into the Champions’ League next season. I’m putting my hatred aside for this competition to say let’s go for it. I want some silverware and that would be a hell of a consolation prize after tasting the big competition for the first time in six years.
Also, Spurs deserve to be in Europe, even if it is the Europa League.
Spurs will drop into the top half of the draw as a seeded side, having finished in third place in their group and falling in the third spot out of the eight Champions’ League clubs joining the Europa League.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s your breakdown of who is left.
These are the 16 teams that will be in Pot A for the draw next week:
Zenit St. Petersburg
Hapoel Be’er Sheva
*Spurs cannot draw Manchester United in the Round of 32 due to FIFA rules.
So who do Spurs want to play?
This is really what the preview is about. Looking at the remaining teams, I think it’s safe to say that avoiding the teams in the larger leagues that are doing well is preferable. That includes the likes of Roma, Villarreal, and Bilbao. You obviously have to beat the best to get to the prize, but it doesn’t say anything about having to beat them immediately.
“But Punk! What about Gladbach!?!” I can hear you already yelling at me through your internet connect.
While it wouldn’t be ideal to play a team that has been scary in the past such as Gladbach, it’s hard to argue that Gladbach have been pretty damn bad the first half of this season. They’re currently 13th in the Bundesliga and only five clear from the relegation zone. Do we expect them to drop? Absolutely not. If any of you have actually seen teams like Hamburger or Ingolstadt play, you’ll know that Gladbach are more than likely going to be safe. They’ve struggled to score in pretty much every competition and given up a bunch of goals, however.
Then we get into the travel aspect of Europa that is always an argument. We got that covered for you by way of Spurs Report in one tweet:
A look at potential February trips for Spurs. A couple of nasty ones to Russia, but otherwise not too much to fear pic.twitter.com/pwWxglxw81— The Spurs Report (@spurs_report) December 8, 2016
The longest potential flight would be to Israel to take on Hapoel Be’er Sheva, which is just over a five hour trip one way. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not terrible. Spurs made a trip to Azerbaijan last season and that was over six hours in flight time. The real question is what are Spurs’ fixtures around that time and would it be a major problem since we’re talking about Thursday night football? Here’s the answer to that.
February 11: @ Liverpool
February 16: First leg Europa, Away
February 19: FA Cup Fifth Round
February 23: Second leg Europa, Home
February 26: Stoke City
It’s hard to argue for a better set of fixtures around that time. The trip to Anfield is tough, but it’s before we hit Europa League. Spurs are currently in the third round of the FA Cup, drawn against Aston Villa at White Hart Lane. If they get past Villa, the fourth round is at the end of January. The worst thing for Spurs in January is having to do any kind of replays in the FA Cup that clog up the schedule.
Taking all of this into consideration, travel won’t negatively affect Spurs in the league for this leg of Europa.
This is getting too long. Who the heck should Spurs play?
PAOK immediately jumps off the list. They’re 11th in the Greek Super League and aren’t scary in any way to me. They aren’t generating great attacks and their defense is, at best, above average.
I wouldn’t mind seeing AZ Alkmaar as well, given how bad Eredivisie defenses can be. It’s a short flight and Spurs should move on comfortably in that match-up against Vincent Janssen’s old club.
Celta Vigo wouldn’t be a bad middle ground. They’re firmly in the midtable of La Liga but like most average Spanish sides, they tend to hemorrhage goals, and they’ve already coughed up 26 in league play. They did fairly well in Europa by scoring ten and giving up seven, but it isn’t like they were playing world beaters. Two of those teams were a bad Standard Liege squad and hapless Panathinaikos.
That being said, we’ll draw Villarreal and Bobby Soldier is going to score a hat trick against us, right?
The Europa Draw is on Monday, December 12, 12:00 GMT.