After a six year absence, Tottenham Hotspur are finally back in the UEFA Champions League, and today’s draw served as a grand occasion. Once the balls were opened and the groups were sorted, Spurs ended up with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, and Monaco, which sounds more like a group of teams Spurs would have played, and have played in the case of Monaco, in the Europa League over the last several years.
With only one experience in the Champions League behind Tottenham, one in which the team topped a group with reigning Dutch champions Twente, Germany’s third best team at the time, Werder Bremen, and the reigning champions of Europe, Inter Milan, the 2016-17 group underwhelms. After all, part of what makes the Champions League so alluring is that last time out, Spurs went toe to toe with European giants, beat them, and walked away with some classic moments in the process. A group with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, and Monaco does not naturally set up for the thrills of 2010-11, some would argue. For them, the long wait for Champions League feels somewhat spoiled.
The reasoning, though, is flawed. It gives less credit to Spurs’ opposition than they are probably due. It is not an easy feat to qualify for the Champions League, and each team boasts their own challenges, whether it be a late-fall trip to Russia, coming up against a Monaco team that held Spurs to a draw last year in the Europa League, or having to defend against Chicharito.
That being said, should Spurs face any major challenges during the group stage, it would probably be more stressful this season than it would have been six seasons ago. This is a group Tottenham can win, which is probably the biggest reason to enjoy the selection of clubs Spurs will play this fall. Let’s face it -- there’s a certain charm to being the underdogs that run away with the result and the hearts of neutrals everywhere. Yet, for the first time on such an illustrious stage, Spurs are a heavyweight, which is quite an attractive feature in a club. Being a heavyweight comes with a lot of pressure to succeed, but being the oddsmakers’ favorite should be something to strive for in the Champions League.
More importantly, though, this group gives Spurs a great opportunity to qualify for the Round of 16 and make a deep run. Topping the group would allow the team to enter the first knockout round as a seeded team set to theoretically face one of the inferior teams still remaining in the tournament. For those looking to replicate some of the joy of Spurs’ last campaign in the Champions League, there is an easy path to do so. Part of the wonder of the 2010-11 Tottenham team was that they beat Italian giant AC Milan in a run that ended in the quarterfinals. Should Spurs still be in the tournament come the new year, the team could make another deep run, likely drawing a team where the odds favor Spurs, or meeting a team that surprisingly faltered to second in their group and setting Spurs up to pull off an upset reminiscent of 2011. Regardless of the opponents, what Spurs supporter would not want to call their team a Champions League quarterfinalist yet again?
There are reasons to yawn at Spurs’ group, especially if you’re a neutral, but Spurs supporters should take comfort in the fact that a new Champions League journey awaits them, one that could be just as exciting as the 2010-11 season was. Luck of the draw certainly helped, but sitting as a favorite to top the group is a symbol of the club’s attempts to become a consistently top team in England, and in that, there is much to celebrate.