On Thursday, Lazio travels to White Hart Lane to kick off Tottenham's 2012-13 Europa League campaign. With the competition's start, though, comes a headache for Spurs: How should they approach this lesser European competition?
Last year, the decision was clear. Fresh off of a year chasing glory all the way to the Champions League quarterfinals, manager Harry Redknapp made it obvious that the pursuit of a spot in the 2012-13 Champions League would take priority over that season's Europa League. As a result, Spurs played a weakened side in their Europa matches and crashed out after the competition's group stage.
This season, new manager Andre Villas-Boas has promised to treat the competition differently. AVB defended the competition against detractors on Tuesday, then expressed his desire to win the competition on Wednesday.
Villas-Boas' attitude toward the Europa League should come as no big surprise. After all, the Portuguese manager's reputation rests somewhat on his guiding Porto to the 2010-11 Europa League crown.
However, is it in Tottenham's best interest to go all-out toward the crown?
It is undeniable that the competition exists for clubs that were not able to make it into the Champions League. Additionally, the path to the top European competition is only paved through league play: A Europa League crown does nothing but guarantee your spot back in the Europa League.
To fully understand the dilemma this competition creates, one needs only look at last season's Atletico Madrid side. Atletico fought tooth-and-nail through the Europa League and dominated their way to the trophy. However, their busy schedule led them to finish the season fifth in La Liga, two points shy of Malaga for the final Spanish Champions League spot.
Had Atleti not gone all-out toward the Europa League, would they have beaten out Malaga for that Champions League spot? It's impossible to know, but the Madrid club's sublime display in routing last season's Champions League winners, Chelsea, in the UEFA Supercup suggests that they are good enough to compete at the highest level.
So what should Tottenham do? Well, that's really a question of your preferences.
Do you want to see Spurs chase a trophy at any cost? Or would you rather see them go after a spot in the highest of competitions? Or do you think they have a deep enough squad to go after both without over-extending themselves?
It's quite a quandary.
Then again, if UEFA did the logical thing and made the Europa League victors automatic qualifiers for the next season's Champions League, this wouldn't be a question.
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