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English Premier League

Why Liverpool and Spurs should respect the Europa League

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You could hear the cynical sniggering for miles around as BT Sport attempted to create an interest in their recent Saturday lunchtime fare of Southampton Vs. Tottenham Hotspur, billed as a crucial game in the ‘race for the Europa league’. This was not only because BT Sport’s team of reprobates are incapable of holding the attention of any intelligent person. (The latest in their bizarre forms of presentation was circling the Wembley pitch before the FA Cup semi-final; as if instructed to do so by Glenn Hoddle in order to create some positive energy). No, the sniggering was heard because the English game doesn’t think a great deal of Europa League. In fact, it rather looks down its nose at it.

There has for a while, been a strange paradox at work within the Premier League that’s not very difficult to spot. There are a handful of teams who try to win the title and a handful of teams who are aiming for 17th place; while the rest aim to piece together a season that will reward them with ‘European football’. They all invest a lot of time, effort and cash into achieving this.

However, just as the hastily booked holiday can be rather different to what the brochure suggested, many English teams seem underwhelmed when they arrive at this destination. There have been some exceptions; Middlesbrough reaching the final in 2006, Fulham reaching the final in 2010 and Chelsea winning the competition in its current guise in 2013. However in the two seasons since Chelsea’s win over Benfica in Amsterdam, no English team has reached the quarter finals.

Personally, it seems difficult to distinguish whether this is the result of disinterest, incompetence or plain lack of application. There are certainly some valid reservations about the Europa League. Much like it’s more salubrious relative the Champions League, romantics would prefer it restored to a pure knockout format. Given the financial imperatives pursued by broadcasting companies, this is unlikely to happen. The fact that games are played on a Thursday evening, meaning that league games have to be played on a Sunday, seems to be detrimental to clubs’ league performance. It is no different to playing on a Saturday following a Wednesday night, but there a too many complaints and examples of this problem to discount it. Moreover, the Europa League is instantly devalued by the fact that you can enter it having been knocked out of another competition, the Champions League.

Only recently, Mauricio Pochettino implied in his words that Tottenham might benefit next season if they were to miss out on Europa League qualification. Asked whether Spurs might be closer to the top four were it not for the Europa League he stated, ‘Maybe. I think that you spend a lot of energy when you play in the Europa League and it’s not easy’. A glance across the pages of the Liverpool Echo’s website will show that the same discussion is being had on Merseyside.

What seems curious is that such apathy, and at times contempt, towards the competition doesn’t appear to extend to the continent. Let’s take a case study. It hasn’t seemed to have affected Sevilla who are in 5th on 69 points in La Liga, a better League position than Spurs by comparison, and are in the semi-finals of the Europa League having won the tournament last year. Tottenham this season have had 41 senior players on the books, who have cost the club £200,314,000 in transfers. Sevilla are actually well in the green when it comes to net spending over the past few summers following the sales of Kondogbia, Medel, Negredo, Navas, Fazio and Rakitic. So there should be no excuses that our poor squads can’t handle the workload. They have been expensively assembled. I’ve used Spurs as an example, but Liverpool’s transfer spending has been comparable, both funded by the sale on a superstar in the shape of Suarez and Bale.

Now, there have been examples of English teams who have found themselves in European competition when, so to speak, they were in no fit state. One recalls newly promoted Ipswich Town finishing fifth in 2000/01, qualifying for the UEFA cup as it was then known, and then being relegated the following season. Perhaps that precedent lingered in the minds of many. There are the examples of Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic, Swansea City and Stoke City being rewarded with European football due to their excellence in domestic cups, but perhaps before they had sufficiently developed as squads and clubs to deal with it. The likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton to an extent as well, don’t have that excuse. True, their squads may be a touch thinner when compared to the four clubs above them, but are they any thinner than Napoli’s, Fiorentina’s, Dnipro’s or Sevilla’s? No. In fact in every case, they are actually stronger.

One school of thought suggests that the Premier League is unique in terms of competitiveness and therefore takes more out of our sides. The League is indeed competitive, but I find this Anglo-centric approach a bit problematic. The idea that La Liga consists of Barcelona, Real Madrid and more recently Athletico, while the rest of them teams play with their flip flops on and pick up their pay cheques, is rather disparaging. The performance of English teams in the Europa League should be viewed in conjunction with the oft commented upon performance of English teams in the Champions League in recent times. It’s indicative that we do not possess the depth of quality we think we do, or our coaches are not harnessing the talent at their disposal as well as their opponents.

It may well be true moreover, that Champions League qualification is more important than putting up a good showing in the Europa League. Certainly, in terms of finances and the long term prospects of a club, this could well be the case. But given how unlikely it is that Liverpool, Spurs or Everton will win the league in the foreseeable future, and given that the Europa League is a more prestigious trophy and more exacting a test than either of the two domestic cups, the tournament should feature more prominently among their targets. Tottenham fans take pride in being able to say their club was the first English team to win a European trophy. Liverpool fans are never exactly slow in coming forward to speak of their European successes. Both clubs would do well to remember the glory that European competition has brought them.

The Europa League is indeed a lower profile, miserly funded and second tier quality competition when compared to the Champions League. Football also goes in cycles, so one can’t expect English teams to dominate European competitions every year. This issue however seems different, as it seems down to a question of attitude and application or rather a lack of. All the while other countries are taking the tournament seriously; English teams should not think it below them either.

University of Nottingham History graduate. Freelance sportswriter specialising in Football, Cricket and Golf. Interested in the politics of sport.

English Premier League

Shani Tarashaj is back in action for Everton, but does he have future at club?

The Swiss international has struggled with injury and illness at Everton.

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Friday evening saw Everton play their final under-23 game of the season. The side battled to a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, with Matty Foulds and Luke Garbutt the unlikely goalscorers. The fixture also saw the appearance from the bench of a forgotten Everton player – Shani Tarashaj.

Back in January 2016, the then Everton boss Roberto Martinez signed Swiss international Shani Tarashaj from Grasshoppers Zurich. The fee involved, according to the Liverpool Echo, was around £3 million for a player that Martinez had high hopes for.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The young attacker had come through the ranks at Grasshoppers and was immediately loaned back to them until the end of the season. He continued his fine form, which saw him earn a first Swiss cap and make the national squad for Euro 2016.

All the signs pointed to a future Everton star, but that has not been the case. Instead, Tarashaj has flopped at Everton and it would be no surprise if he was sold by the club this summer.

So what went wrong?

Firstly, the change of manager. It was Martinez who brought Tarashaj to the club in the same window he had signed Oumar Niasse. Once the Spaniard left, getting into Ronald Koeman ’s plans was always going to be a more difficult task.

Tarashaj then spent 2016-17 on loan at German side Eintracht Frankfurt. He struggled to make an impact in Germany and to compound his misery, injury and illness have struck.

(during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium on March 25, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

Benign angina and severe tonsillitis have disrupted the sickly Swiss’ career on Merseyside before he suffered knee ligament damage last summer, which required surgery.

This season, the attacking midfielder has managed just two appearances for Everton’s under-23s and his career as a Toffee has, so far, been one to forget.

There is still hope for the Swiss international. He still has two years left on his contract at Everton and perhaps there is still a chance he can make it at Goodison Park. But two-and-a-half years after first signing for the club, Tarashaj is still waiting to make his Everton debut.

The Manchester United tie may very well prove to be his last as an Everton player.

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Manchester United

Tottenham’s decision to rush back Harry Kane cost them in the FA Cup

The England international has only recently come back from injury.

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Harry Kane
Photo: Getty Images

Harry Kane was a shadow of his former self against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final Saturday afternoon, contributing little as Tottenham Hotspur fell to a 2-1 defeat.

The English international struggled to influence the match and was clearly off the pace. It is glaringly clear that Mauricio Pochettino rushed Kane back from his ankle injury far too soon; a decision that may well have cost Spurs their best recent chance at silverware.

Back in March, the striker crumpled under an awkward challenge from Bournemouth‘s Asmir Begovic and left the match on crutches. Spurs fans held their breath in fear and were crushed when it was later revealed Kane had suffered ligament damage.

It was a blow that was widely expected to keep Kane on the sidelines for the next couple months, but remarkably the striker returned just three weeks later in a 3-1 away win against Chelsea.

However, in the following run of matches leading up to the season-defining encounter against Manchester United, Kane had largely looked unfit and missing his classic verve and intensity that has come to define his game.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This lethargy was notably on show in the midweek fixture against Brighton. Although the 24-year-old scored a goal, he appeared tired and unwilling to make his characteristic attacking runs behind the defence.

On the biggest stage of them all, Tottenham’s star striker was well off his prolific best. It was a shame that Kane could not rise to the Wembley occasion and send Spurs to the FA Cup final.

However, it is through no fault of the Englishman, as the blame must be placed on the over-eager Tottenham backroom staff. There was no need to rush Kane back for the league matches before the massive semifinal, and the striker should have been saved for the United match.

As a result of Pochettino’s poor decision, Spurs are trophy-less and Kane is damaged – a tragic turn of events for the north London club.

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Championship

Conor Coady shows Liverpool what they’re missing in masterful Wolves campaign

The Wolves captain was tipped for big things at Liverpool but never made the grade.

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Back in 2011, Liverpool had one of their young starlets being tipped to become the ‘next Steven Gerrard.’ It was a tag being occasionally branded around the club about young talent Conor Coady. With good reason as well. The teenager was looking like the most natural successor to Gerrard yet.

The summer previous, he had helped England win the UEFA under-17 Championships, which is where the hype all began. Liverpool had unearthed a gem who immediately found himself tipped to become a future Kop captain.

But it never happened for the young man.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Instead, he headed to Sheffield United on loan – where he excelled. After getting a taste for regular football, the idea of returning to the reserve life with Liverpool clearly did not appeal to the utility man. Therefore, he left Liverpool in 2014, joining Huddersfield Town.

Liverpool fans soon forgot about him. Just another hyped up youngster who could not match the expectations laid at their door?

Well, this season Coady has finally looked like the real deal.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The Melwood talent did not stick with Huddersfield for long. In 2015 he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers and he is now looking like the talent Liverpool thought they had at Molineux.

One issue with Coady has always been his position. Often moved around the park, this season he has played as a settled central defender. The results have been exceptional. Coady has been one of the best players in the Championship this campaign. That was highlighted by his inclusion in the Championship team of the season. The 25-year-old is now looking like a future Premier League star and will be playing in the big time next season after captaining Wolves to the Championship summit.

When Liverpool sold Coady to Huddersfield, they did so for a fee reported to be just £500,000 by the Liverpool Echo. The Reds obviously felt he would not live up to those once lofty expectations.

Based on his form this season, Liverpool could be rueing this mistake in the not so distant future.

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