Tottenham will begin their quest for Europa League glory and a place in the Champions League against Azerbaijani champions Qarabağ at White Hart Lane on Tuesday, but manager Mauricio Pochettino believes his side will be at a significant disadvantage in the competition.
It has been a chastening week in Europe thus far for English clubs, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal all suffering opening Champions League defeats. And English clubs have struggled in the Europa League over a number of seasons, with teams often fielding weaker lineups in Europe’s secondary competition. In the last four seasons, Spurs’ best result has been a quarterfinal exit. Pochettino claims that a big factor in that performance is how competitive the Premier League is in comparison to other championships across the continent.
“They can rest, they can recover the week before to play in the Champions League,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “But for Manchester City it was a very tough game against Crystal Palace, for Manchester United the same. It is not an easy competition, the Premier League. It is for that, that you suffer a lot when you play in Europe.
“We know that it is difficult, to play against Sunderland, then to play against Crystal Palace, and you play in the middle against Qarabağ. It is never easy. I think the different leagues, like Spain and Italy, the gap between the teams and the teams at the top, it is a bigger gap. In England you can lose to anyone. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to play in Europe for English teams.”
Pochettino’s side do at least come into their opening Europe League contest on the back of a victory. The 1-0 win over Sunderland on Sunday was Tottenham’s first win of the season, and featured just their fourth goal in five matches. The club’s lack of firepower has been a focus of attention, both in the failure to add a striker in the summer transfer window and with Harry Kane’s ongoing scoring drought. Kane, who netted 31 goals last season, including seven in the Europa League, may be given another chance to get off the mark this season on Thursday. But Tottenham will be without their goalscorer against Sunderland, Ryan Mason, as well as the also injured Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Nabil Bentaleb.
Tottenham will be taking on unheralded opponents, but ones that have given a solid account of themselves in Europe of late. In the group stage of a UEFA competition for the first time ever last season, Qarabağ only narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout phase and beat eventual finalists Dniporo away from home as well as holding Inter Milan to a draw in Azerbaijan.
This season they lost to Scottish champions Celtic in the third round of qualifying for the Champions League, before beating Swiss side Young Boys to make it into the Europa League group phase once more. The chief threat for Tottenham is likely to be Brazilian forward Reynaldo, who has already scored twice in Europe this term, to add to his five Europa League goals from last season.
Kickoff time: 3:05 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1