With week 36 in the books for most clubs, the Premier League has devolved into a race for the Europa League—or in a way, a battle between who wants it less. In one corner are the Saints of Southampton, losers in four of their last six. In the other is the ever-underwhelming Tottenham Hotspur, losers in three of their last five, but most recently coming off an embarrassing 3–0 defeat at Stoke City. And after Monday afternoon’s result, a third club is knocking on the door.
Tottenham currently sit sixth on 58 points while Southampton are seventh on 57. Let’s say each of these clubs loses their final two matches—which, given their recent form, is quite possible. Then Swansea City, who are suddenly sitting on 56 points, have entered the fray as a potential Europa inductee. The fifth-place finisher in the English Premier League—which will almost certainly be Liverpool, who currently hold a four-point advantage over Tottenham—automatically qualifies for the UCL’s less attractive cousin. From there it can get a little murky.
The winner of the Capital One Cup would normally qualify, but since the victors were Chelsea, who have already secured the league title along with a UCL berth, that distinction falls to the sixth-place team. The winners of the FA Cup (to be contested on May 30 between Arsenal and Aston Villa) also earn a Europa spot. If Arsenal win, the Europa qualification would fall to the seventh-place team since they are also guaranteed a spot in the UCL next season. If Villa win the spot is theirs. If the season ended today Tottenham would again be headed to next season’s qualification round.
So begins the age-old question comes to the forefront again: Is competing in the Europa League worth it? That comes down to several factors. For clubs like Southampton and Swansea, this would be a tremendous step up. Playing in Europe, regardless of the UCL or Europa, wouldn’t matter in the slightest to them. As for Tottenham, if the goal is UCL they are miles beyond miles off. Every year they enter the Europa League as favorites but recent history has shown them disappointingly bow out shortly after the group stages.
While Spurs striker Harry Kane may claim the club is serious about the competition, words mean very little in that regard. As far as scheduling goes however, on paper it’s in Spurs’ favor: their remaining fixtures consist of relegation candidate Hull City and underachieving Everton. Southampton faces the surging Aston Villa before a finale against Manchester City, while the white-hot Swans take on City and the hard-nosed Crystal Palace.
Of course the Europa League matters in the sense that clubs get money for participating in it, but now the incentive is bigger than it ever has been, with the winning club gaining automatic Champions League qualification for the following season. That’s where squad management becomes the most important, as it becomes a balancing act between several competitions—including league, FA Cup, Capital One Cup, and UEL. Of the three aforementioned squads, Tottenham have the most money, but recently we’ve seen them consistently invest it in the wrong players while also carrying an excess amount of dead weight.
Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk of Southampton and Swansea respectively, however, have somewhat unexpectedly gotten the most out of their players throughout their first season in charge. On the other hand there’s Mauricio Pochettino—now of Tottenham, formerly of Southampton—who appears to be struggling with his lacking attack force and leaky defense.
While the title race is over, the top four is all but set, and the relegation battle is winding down, spots six through eight are suddenly incredibly tight. How badly do these teams want the Europa League?