With the Champions League places all but wrapped up (bar some mathematical miracle) in the Premier League the battle for next season’s Europa League places are still up for grabs, the only problem is that it seems that no-one actually wants to qualify for them.
Liverpool are currently in 5th place and look large favourites to stay there with only two league games to go, obviously this will be scant consolation for a side which not only had dreams of securing a Champions League but were looking to go one step better than their 2nd place last season. It seems a lack of firepower has been the key difference for them this season and they will have to make do with Europe’s secondary competition.
But below them this is where it starts to get a bit more interesting. Currently in 6th place are Tottenham who almost seem to be doing their best to not qualify for the competition. They currently are on a run of form which has only seen 1 win in their last 6 matches, not really the kind of form that sees you at the top part of the table and competing for European places.
Astonishingly though they have managed to stay 6th due to the fact that the team below them Southampton, have also managed to repeat the same stuttering form and therefore they haven’t been able to capatilize on the fading form of Tottenham. Southampton with doubt are having a fantastic season but they are just slipping away now and have certainly not been the same side since losing Fraser Forster for a year through injury.
That brings us onto the dark horses in the Europa League race Swansea, they are coming on strong on the outside after losing 1 of their last 6 matches in which 4 of them games have been victories including the win away at Arsenal last night. The only real problem for Swansea and their Manager Garry Monk is that he almost gave the indication that he doesn’t want to finish in the Top 7 and qualify for Europe. (Let’s work on the basis that Aston Villa don’t win the F.A. Cup at the end of May) – see this article http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32663693. It seems for Swansea qualifying for the Europa League would be to the detriment of their League campaign next season.
So the issue we have is that 2 maybe even 3 of these clubs could be in the competition when at the moment they seem do to be doing their best not to qualify for it. The problem is someone has to represent the League next season, it’s almost as securing a Europa League berth is a poisoned chalice. The issue of Thursday-Sunday rears its head again, for Liverpool and Tottenham it shouldn’t be an issue as much due to the squads being arguably deeper in terms of quality but you can certainly see Garry Monk’s point of view that Swansea would struggle to compete on both fronts again as their league form certainly took a nose dive after their European exploits last season.
Another thing to take into consideration is that sides seem to have a better assault on the league when they don’t have Europa League Football to worry about. Tottenham qualified for their only Champions League campaign when not having the rigors of Europe to deal with, Liverpool finished 2nd last season with the same freedom and Manchester United have secured a Champions League place this without having to play on Thursdays. Therefore the question has to be asked, is this a competition too many for our English sides. The Europa League is an incredibly divisive competition with many people in this country questioning it’s value and many fans always bemoaning the fact their team has qualified but on the flip side you want your team to keep aspiring to qualify for competitions otherwise the rot can set in and you could just as easily be a Newcastle who only worry about survival and not silverware.
An argument could be made for just playing the fringe players in the group phases and then the bigger names in the knockouts but the only risk there is the club doesn’t get out of the group stage then the English club co-efficient could take a hit which ultimately has a knock-on effect for the whole of the Premier League. Although the question must be asked why the teams on the continent take it so seriously?, the perfect example being Sevilla who as last years winners look set to get to another final in a few weeks time but not only that it will be there 4th final in 10 seasons. But I think the obvious answer to that question is that Premier League success is the be all and end all for these clubs whereas a side like Sevilla know they can’t compete for a La Liga title so this is the best chance of success. With the added carrot of a Champions League place for this seasons Europa League winners it looks like Sevilla have been all their eggs in the correct basket but in England there still seems to be a mistrust for the competition.
Tottenham and to Mauricio Pochettino’s credit did give the competition a proper good go this season but since losing the League Cup Final back in February the side has looked more and more tired and the extra games in the early part of the season have certainly caught up with them. So it seems apparent that the demands of the Premier League coupled with a long Europa League campaign will only end in not finishing in a Top 4 place but means the cycle just goes round again next season. You almost need to finish 8th one season to break the cycle and have a proper crack at the Champions League places, now if I was a conspiracy theorist I’d say that is exactly what Tottenham are trying to do but I don’t think Pochettino is asking his team not to try, I just think they are showing the signs of fatigue that playing in both competitions gives you.
So there you have it, in one of the strangest races for a Europa League places I’ve probably ever seen it seems as if the winners will be the losers and the losers will end up next season being the winners.