I know what you’re thinking.
Oh here’s Menno again, here to talk us all down from the ledge after another bad European result with an optimistic perspective piece.
And you’re right. I am.
Look, there’s no point in sugarcoating it. Tottenham Hotspur crashed unceremoniously out of Europe by losing on aggregate to the eighth-placed team in the Belgian Jupiler League, despite playing two nearly full strength sides.
I mean, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s embarrassing, and it sucks. Spurs are, for at least a day or so, the laughing stocks of the top six in the Premier League, and most of us are going to have to eat our fair share of crow when we meet our football-loving friends, mates, and co-workers today.
But here’s the thing: it’s not like Spurs played poorly on Thursday. Far from it, actually. Spurs were dynamic in the 3-5-2, pushing forward at will, getting in dangerous positions, and looking for a good portion of that match like the team that romped through the month of January and got people talking about them possibly challenging Chelsea for the title.
Then... well, we know what happened then. Harry Kane headed in an own goal off of a ridiculous set piece, Dele Alli saw the red mist and got sent off, and despite a healthy dose of chutzpah and bravery, Spurs weren’t able to get the 3-1 victory they needed while down a man in order to move on. Not that they didn’t make it interesting.
It’s especially painful because this looked like a Europa League that was there for the taking. It featured a generally weak field of 32 with relatively few stand-out clubs and no underachieving Champions League underachievers. This morning, Gent drew another Belgian side, Genk, one spot above them in the Belgian table. It would’ve been another favorable draw. Manchester United meanwhile looks like the favorite to win it all, adding further insult to injury.
But as Spurs get healthy again and position themselves for the Premier League run-in, is dropping out of a Europa League competition that clutters up the schedule really all that bad?
Some of you are going to accuse me of revisionism. And to be fair, I love the Europa League and wanted Spurs to win it. Trophies are good, a ticket to the Champions League is better. Even so, there are distinct advantages to not having to play Thursday night matches against rando European teams in the spring. Spurs have a very favorable final stretch of matches remaining. Let’s take a look at them.
- MILLWALL [FA Cup]
- [FA Cup semis]
- @West Ham
- MANCHESTER UNITED
- @Hull City
- [FA Cup final]
No Premier League game is easy, to be sure, but Spurs only face three teams in the top seven – Everton, Arsenal, and United – and all three are at White Hart Lane where Spurs are still undefeated in the league. Of the remaining, West Ham and Burnley stick out as possible banana peel games, but overall that’s a pretty favorable run-in. With five other teams jostling for position behind Chelsea for three available Champions League spot, every point is important.
With Spurs now only concerned with the FA Cup in addition to the Premier League, there are fewer matches to worry about, which means less rotation, a healthier, rested squad, and a better chance of finishing top four.
I’m not telling you how to feel. Be upset! Get mad! Rage against Kane’s and Son’s mediocre finishing, Dele’s stupid decision making, that ridiculous god-awful referee, and the dying of the light. Whatever makes you feel better. But if there’s a silver lining in this cloud, it’s that by virtue of underachieving, Spurs have put themselves into a better position to achieve their league goals.
It was a European campaign to forget for Tottenham Hotspur, but that happens sometimes. More important is to work hard to put the club in a position for future success, something that, now that Spurs are out of Europe, feels ever so slightly more attainable.