When in charge of Southampton last season, Mauricio Pochettino repeatedly dismissed the Europa League and spoke of his dislike for the tournament.
Since taking over at Tottenham Hotspur the Argentina manager has performed a dramatic U-turn. There is a reason for it.
That’s because the first time in the tournament’s history, this seasons Europa League winner will get an automatic spot in next years UEFA Champions League tournament. With the top four of the Premier League so tight and Spurs on the cusp of breaking into it time and time again, winning the Europa League could actually be their best chance of making it back to Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 2010.
Spurs kick off their Europa League campaign with a a qualifier away in Cyrpus against AEL Limassol on Thursday.
Pochettino has selected an almost full strength squad for the first leg and ahead of the match this is how he now views the Europa League.
“The Europa League now gives the possibility to play in the Champions League and it’s now a more interesting competition than before,” Pochettino said. “Before, if you won the Europa League you never had that chance – but now, with that change, it’s a more interesting competition. But it’s only one more chance – you still have the Premier League and our aim is to win every competition. We’re taking it game by game.”
In conclusion, Tottenham are taking the Europa League seriously this season.
Last year they lost to eventual finalists Benfica in the round of 16, the year before that they were knocked out in the quarterfinals to FC Basel. With a young squad determined to get to the top and a manager ambitious to play in the Champions League as soon as possible, can Pochettino juggle Europa League and Premier League commitments this season?
One thing for sure is that, unlike the past, he’s committed to European soccer’s second-tier competition. But only because it provides a gateway to the Champions League.
Jose Mourinho got the
dreaded much-needed vote of confidence from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich last weekend, seemingly giving the Portuguese manager a temporary stay of execution despite the Blues’ worst start to a season in 37 years.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]
Speaking this week, Mourinho has revealed that while he’s thankful to have been kept on at the club for which he regularly professes his love, he still thinks it was no-brainer for Abramovich. In other words, Mourinho’s not backing down from his incredible, seven-minute rant to one question following Saturday’s defeat to Southampton.
Mourinho, on what he’s doing to turn Chelsea around — quotes from the Guardian:
“It shows the confidence of Abramovich in the manager who has won three Premier League titles with this club. I thank him and I keep working.
“What’s going on? I do not know. The results with Chelsea at the moment have been really bad. I cannot hide that reality, and I don’t want to. And I struggle to find an explanation. But I assure you: I’m working like never before and we will come out of this. And there is also the Champions League that we will not neglect, for certain.”
What did you expect from Mourinho? Well, you know, I should probably be fired, but thanks to Mr. Abramovich for not realizing this and keeping me employed? It’s simultaneously interesting and the least surprising thing ever, though, that Mourinho claims to not know what’s wrong with Chelsea at the moment. Of course he has a theory (or five), and of course he’s “working like never before” to correct it.
[ MORE: Ozil, Coquelin say Arsenal can win the title this season ]
The most fascinating thing about Chelsea’s sluggish start to the season is to see, hear and read Mourinho speaking from a position of powerlessness. Always the clever one, the one dictating where the discussion goes, the one in charge of every press interaction, Saturday’s rant felt like watching a desperate Mourinho grasping for anything by which to pull himself back up.
There are claims out of Spain that Manchester City has a verbal agreement to bring Pep Guardiola to town when his Bayern Munich contract expires in June.
Don’t expect comment from Guardiola, who bristles when discussing his future. In the past he’s hinted he might not be the right man for the Bavarian side, but has lamented any questions about clubs other than Bayern.
Now Mundo Deportivo writer Francesc Aguilar says there’s a secret agreement between Guardiola and Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain to reunite at the Etihad Stadium this summer.
[ MORE: Three big battles between U.S. and Mexico ]
Both Barcelona buffs and former Spanish internationals, Begiristain was Barca’s director of football when Guardiola took over for Frank Rjikaard in 2008.
Manuel Pellegrini signed a contract extension this summer and has led the club to a Premier League title, though the club has struggled in European competition. For what it’s worth, the Manchester Evening News got rumor reaction from Sergio Aguero:
On the latest Guardiola rumour, Kun said: “It has been talked about a lot. I don’t know him, but he’s a great manager and it’s wonderful to have the best managers train you.”
But he also added: “I’m very good with Manuel Pellegrini, we talk a lot. I’m happy in the team and with him, but the club will be the one who chooses who comes in.”
In other words, “I’m really good, and they pay me well enough that I’m prepared to play for any big name that arrives.”
It’s a story to keep up with, even as it intrudes on the seasons of two big, rich European clubs.