The benefits of Europa?
So Tottenham have made it into the last 32 of Europe's second tier football competition and are one of the favourites in Europa League betting, a tournament that is now filled with the domestic nearly's or not quite good enough's of the Champions league, though some would prefer to look upon is as being a tournament filled with the best of the rest. Me I remain unconvinced of its benefits and merits on the football calendar and question that in its current format is is perhaps more hindrance than help to those sides looking to build on what they have already achieved.
Next Friday, we will discover which clubs we face in the last thirty-two and potentially last sixteen stages of the competition that our manager has always stated a desire to win, but will he feel the same, if the extra games come back to bite him and Spurs on the backside should fatigue or their related injuries detract from a must at least have a hell of a go top four attempt. Will we then be hearing of tired legs and an squad lacking in depth, should everything end in disappointment?
There remains a very big part of my thinking that a second string competition deserved second string players and I believe that though their league form might not always show this to be true, seeing Liverpool and Newcastle playing squad players and kids is still perhaps the right way to go into this tournament as you keep the first team players fit for Sunday and give the other much needed games or experience. I have to admit that the real balance probably lies somewhere in the middle, especially in the group stage and to be fair to AVB, he hasn't always had too many options beyond playing the best or playing a team full of teenagers, but I still wonder if we could have taken to playing as many of our best players as possible at the mid-long term detriment of our league ambitions and also that of the happiness of our squad players, who might not be jumping with joy at missing our of league and european competition.
Of course I don't have the luxury of having a crystal ball to see into the future and know AVB's and Mr Levy's plans. Was for example Tom Huddlestone carrying a slight knock or is he a definite departure as soon as someone makes a serious offer. Does the same apply to Jake Livermore despite his late cameo? similarly where does Gylfi Sigurdsson really fit in at the moment? Could for example all three of those come in for the likes of Sandro or Jermain Defoe? Perhaps even Hudd or Jake could have covered for Jan Vertonghen, after all they have played in the centre of defence before and not let anyone down.
In an ideal world, we would have had a full or at least fuller squad to allow AVB to rotate players of similar quality, such as Kaboul/Caulker Sandro/Parker and several others, but we haven't had that luxury. Has the lack of depth actually brought on the developments of a player like Tom Carroll, who hasn't looked out of place in any game to date. could or should we have looked to play others such as Iago Falque, Andros Townsend or a few others at least a little more on occasions? To their credits, I do get the feeling that in the main we have a group of players that are naturally athletic and also want to play every game, but often players need saving from themselves and realise that we are playing a lot of games and they need to occasionally be removed from the firing line and allowed to recharge their batteries.
Even with that in mind, and also our problems with injuries, I feel that we haven't quite got the balance right in team selection and also in using the competition to integrate one or two youngsters into the starting XI. The realistic balance is probably to play a 70-80% strong team, with a core of established players mixed in with a few who might otherwise not play. Again, I accept that last night and in other games, AVB effectively had his hands tied in picking a defence. It seems that Gallas struggles to play twice a week, therefore we had four fit senior defenders, so short of moving a player positionally, we had a back line that picked itself.
However, despite his outstanding (again) performance, would we have been that much worse in picking Livermore for Sandro and perhaps Townsend or Falque for Lennon and Sigurdsson for Defoe? For example, Friedel, Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, Naughton; Falque/Townsend, Livermore, Carroll, Dempsey; Sigurdsson, Adebayor. This is hardly a weak side and in effect only uses two junior players. Would something like that offer a team capable of winning Europa games, allowing others to rest and developing or playing others that will be key to our season should injuries etc bite into the best XI?
I admit, I struggle with the merits of the Europa league. Its not our being in it as much as what I feel it does to our domestic prospects. playing Thursday/Sunday is far from ideal and when I see our Prem rivals have a weeks rest and preparation, I do fear the worst in games such as this weekends trip to Goodison. Some will talk of players and the fact that athletes should be easily able to play every few days, but that needs to be on a level playing field. Anyone who has played or has knowledge of athletes understands the need for rest and recovery and when you add flights and hanging around into the equation, you double the stress on a players body and mind. Question is, whether the competition is worth the hassle and does it detract from what should be our priority in achieving another top four finish, this season???