The much maligned European competition has actually been a big help for Tottenham in one important area.
With Mauricio Pochettino's assertion that the Europa League is hurting Tottenham's Champions League chances in his press conference on Thursday, as quoted by Sky Sports, here is one major reason why the competition has been a huge benefit to Spurs in recent years.
The Europa League has actually been an encouraging environment for Spurs to give their promising young players playtime in the last few seasons.
Tom Carroll, Steven Caulker, Jake Livermore, Andros Townsend, and Harry Kane have all benefitted from the added minutes available to them in Europe in previous seasons, against a standard of opposition that strong young players at a Premier League club would expect to impress against. Would Kane for example have the goal total he boasts this season, if not for building his confidence in the Europa League before he was given a starting chance in the league?
Those players, some of which have been sold on for decent transfer fees, would have gotten far fewer minutes to develop if Spurs would have either been in the Champions League or not in the Europa League.
In Europe's premier competition, every game is a challenge for a team who would be seeded as Spurs would be, while as Manchester United proved this season by exiting the League Cup early on and finding themselves out of Europe, there are few opportunities to start or give minutes to talented young players. The likes of Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett have only featured out of necessity, while someone as talented as James Wilson would surely have more than four starts to his name if United would have been in the Europa League, likewise Andreas Pereira.
Even Adnan Januzaj would have benefitted from more fixtures to be involved in, seeing as how he has nearly 1000 minutes less than he garnered in his breakthrough last season.
Spurs will have played nearly 60 games by the time this season wraps, allowing plenty of opportunities for fringe players to make a claim for more regular first team football, and especially room for youngsters to earn game time. Take away the 10 or so games Europa League football brings each season, and there is a lot relying on a favourable League Cup draw and run in order to ensure the entire squad gets appearances.
A counter argument for Europa League football is that if a team is playing just once a week then the manager can pick a settled side who get stronger and stronger, also making the league campaign the priority in the hope of Champions League qualification. However, much of this depends on players steering clear from injuries, and what supporters would want their team to play fewer games anyway?
With an outstanding batch of young players set to be available next season, including Dele Alli, Alex Pritchard, Milos Veljkovic, Ryan Fredericks, Josh Onomah, Harry Winks, Nathan Oduwa, and Grant Ward to name just a few, the need for first team opportunities for relatively untested prospects could be bigger than ever before. The Europa League remains the best chance of that, not to mention the shortest route to Champions League football for the winners.