Despite a tough second half of the 2020/21 season, a Ryan Mason-led Tottenham Hotspur was able to end the year with a little dignity, sneaking ahead of Arsenal for the fifth time in a row and finishing seventh in the Premier League, good enough to secure the club’s 11th (!!) straight season of European football.
Of course, this season’s competition will feel a little different. UEFA is rolling out a third tournament, giving Spurs the chance to win the inaugural Europa Conference League trophy. The intention is to give clubs from smaller countries a better chance to compete internationally, though there will still be some stronger sides such as Roma, Union Berlin, and Stade Rennes.
Unlike last year’s three single-legged qualifying rounds — thanks, Covid — to get into the Europa League group stage, Tottenham will just need to get through one opponent to earn a spot in the 32-team next phase. One thing to note: UEFA has abolished the away goals rule across its club competitions for this season and going forward.
Paços de Ferreira (0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (0)
Date: Thursday, August 19
Time: 2:30 pm ET | 7:30 pm UK
Location: Estádio Capital do Móvel, Paços de Ferreira, Portugal
Paços de Ferreira finished fifth in last season’s Primeira Liga, which was its best position since 2012/13. As a result, this is the first time in seven seasons that the Portuguese club will play European football. Things have started well, with a 4-1 aggregate victory over Northern Irish club Larne in the Third Qualifying Round.
Aside from the two legs against Larne, Paços have played three additional matches this season as well, winning one and losing one in the league and advancing on penalties in the Taça da Liga, a cup amongst the top two flights in Portugal. All three opponents were mid-table finishers in the Primeira Liga last year.
Paços is not the weakest team Spurs could have faced in the Playoff Round, but of course the Lilywhites will be expected to advance. As always with these qualifiers, building a lead in the first leg makes everything much less stressful going forward, and if Sunday’s win over Manchester City was any indication, the club is ready to hit the ground running behind Nuno Espirito Santo.
- Tottenham should be able to advance while featuring a young squad, and though winning it all is still the main goal, this competition will provide the opportunity for some academy players to make their mark. Nuno showed a lot of confidence in rolling out Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp to open up the Premier League season, and there is likely going to be a strong youth presence in Thursday’s side as well.
- The Primera Liga may be a step down in talent compared to the Premier League, but there are a few perennial competitors that do offer some quality. Paços had trouble with all three of Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Lisbon last season, dropping seven of eight matches against the top sides across all competitions.
- Speaking of Benfica, this will be Tottenham’s first competitive match against a Portuguese side since the Round of 16 in the 2013/14 Europa League. Spurs lost 1-3 at the Lane before a 2-2 draw in Lisbon knocked them out of the tournament. Benfica went on to lose the final to Sevilla on penalties.