Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur each begin their Europa League campaigns tonight and start among the favourites to win the entire competition.
According to Oddschecker, most bookmakers make only Borussia Dortmund and Napoli more likely to win the tournament than the Premier League pair.
But that is grossly misleading when considering the secondary approach that English clubs take to the Europa League compared to their domestic objectives.
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The Reds, upon their Champions League elimination, and Spurs were well fancied in last season’s edition and yet were both knocked out in the last 32 with only themselves to blame.
Liverpool failed to beat Club Brugge, recently picked apart by Manchester United in Champions League qualifying, and Tottenham made a farce of things in their aggregate defeat to Fiorentina.
In both instances, managers Brendan Rodgers and Mauricio Pochettino were guilty of fielding weakened teams as they seemingly prioritised their pursuit of the holy grail that is a top-four finish.
But the irony is that, partly because of English club’s carelessness in the Europa League, finishing fourth may not be good enough to secure Champions League football in the near future.
As The Telegraph reports, the Premier League are in danger of losing their fourth Champions League spot as Italy could overtake them in the UEFA rankings, depending on this season’s results.
England is currently the third and final nation, after Spain and Germany, to be awarded four places. Italy only get three, but that may soon change because of their recent continental success.
Serie A had Juventus reach the final of the 2014-15 Champions League, and Fiorentina and Napoli the semis of the Europa League, in which Torino, Inter Milan and Roma also made the last 16.
None of England’s participants in Europe made it to the quarter-finals last season, and things have not started promisingly this time around. Only Chelsea were winners in the opening round of Champions League games. Southampton and West Ham United didn’t make it through Europa League qualifying.
A trip to Bordeaux and the visit of Azerbaijani champions and Qarabag to White Hart Lane may be afterthoughts this week, with games against Norwich City and Crystal Palace respectively on the clubs’ agendas, but Liverpool and Tottenham must take the Europa League, which now offers a Champions League place for the winner, seriously when it matters. For the good of themselves, and the Premier League.
It may not be their competition of choice, but it must be treated with greater respect in order to keep the door open for them to qualify for Europe’s top club competition in the coming years.
Then, and only then, will Liverpool and Spurs justify their place among the tournament favourites.