The Europa League. Sigh. In my view there are few phrases in football less inspiring or more depressing. Just hearing the words spawns recollections of half-baked team selection, half-hearted performances and heartbreaking losses on penalties. Add in the racism, anti-Semitism, the stabbings, the attacks in bars and the unfairness of a competition that is generally won by a team that didn’t qualify for it in the first place and personally I think we’re well into ‘what’s the point?’ territory.
I used to be a fan, especially when the European Cup was actually a competition for champions and there was prestige in both qualifying and winning this trophy but now it’s just a mess. It bears little resemblance to a trophy worth winning. It’s been tinkered with beyond recognition so much that it reminds me of that painting in the church in Spain that was touched up by a local until it resembled the work of a five year old except that that effort has become something of an attraction and the EL is a major distraction.
Our run to the quarter final last year was peppered with heroics that in general had little effect on the side that played the weekend afterwards save for the home game against Fulham when Berbatov took advantage of a side still recovering from playing extra time with 10 men in the San Siro. Even so, our leg weary eleven would’ve drawn if Defoe had converted his one-on-one with Schwarzer, so there’s surely no doubt that a fresh side would’ve seen off the Cottagers and given us an unassailable-by-the-Gooners, 75 points at the end of the campaign.
Having said all that, it’s a competition we could win and we’d be foolish to look a trophy horse in the face. But… to win we’d need to play 2 qualifiers, 8 group games, 8 knockout games and a final. That’s potentially 19 times, exactly half a season, where we risk playing a Premier League game with an exhausted and battle worn squad.
To make the whole thing less of a trudge to the final, UEFA have tinkered again. From next season (I think) the final is effectively a Champions League qualifying spot play-off; this year the winners just get money, assuming they’ve got the energy to claim their prize at the end of it of course.
Talking of tiredness, it’s 2,000 miles to Tbilisi, and 2,000 miles back. Unfortunately Swansea, our opponents at the weekend, are at home in their qualifier. Plus points of today’s match are that the players who are half-fit will get another game under their belts, the new and old players will get to know each other better and Villas-Boas can tinker with formations and tactics – and hopefully find a way of playing to a quicker tempo than we did at Palace.
It’s all relative but Dynamo appear to be a team on the up, winning the Georgian title last year after a 5 year gap. They’ll be up for it, no doubt there’s national as well as local pride at stake and the crowd will be noisy from the off. A win would be a great result, taking all the pressure off before the NLD at the weekend, I suspect a low scoring draw is more likely.
The officials are from the Netherlands. COYS.
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