Why Liverpool and Tottenham should prioritise the Europa League this season
The much-maligned tournament is both clubs' best chance of winning a trophy this season - and, of course, making it into the Champions League
Liverpool and Tottenham do not appear to be good enough to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season.
Their best chance of qualifying for next year’s Champions League, therefore, is by winning the Europa League.
So rather than treating the much-maligned tournament as an inconvenience, Brendan Rodgers and Mauricio Pochettino should prioritise it over their domestic campaigns.
Reaching Europe’s premier club competition - or winning a trophy - is what is required of both managers in order for their seasons to be considered successful.
In the Europa League, they are only 17 games away from achieving both objectives.
And while the tournament features talented opposition from Spain, Germany and Italy, those sides are not as good as the leading ones Liverpool and Spurs face domestically.
It is disappointing, then, that Rodgers and Pochettino are poised to make several changes for their group openers away at Bordeaux and at home to Qarabag respectively.
For the latter, it is easier to understand.
The Argentine has a squad capable of overcoming the side from Azerbaijan with ease.
However, those who endured Spurs’ insipid 1-0 win at Sunderland at the weekend - their first victory of the season - might feel another 90 minutes would do those first choice players plenty of good.
And although he has hardly been short of games in recent months, the fixture is the perfect opportunity for Harry Kane - scorer of seven European goals last season - to open his club account for the season.
The England striker is 7/2 to score first in a Tottenham win.
But Rodgers leaving key players such as Christian Benteke and James Milner at home for the trip to the French wine-growing region is baffling.
It seems the only reason Philippe Coutinho - who is 13/2 to score any time in a Liverpool win - has travelled is because he missed the match at Old Trafford last Saturday through suspension.
The Northern Irishman is under genuine pressure - from supporters and, presumably, the boardroom - after chastening defeats to West Ham and Manchester United.
He is simply not performing well enough in his role to take unnecessary risks in this fixture.
The not-so-subtle inference that the Europa League is somehow beneath Liverpool or Tottenham is curious considering their distinct lack of success in recent seasons.
The average league position of both over the last six years is sixth, while the only trophies either has won in the last decade has been the League Cup in 2012 (Liverpool) and 2008 (Tottenham) respectively.
This tournament is the perfect level for them.
Admittedly, the Premier League and its calendar does not make it easy to succeed in a tournament which is played exclusively on Thursday nights.
The change of routine is unhelpful, while fixtures re-arranged for Sunday at 3pm are often devoid of the usual animated match-day atmosphere.
That does not apply in Spain - the nation that has supplied seven of the last 12 Europa League winners - where their tradition of playing on Sunday evenings makes the late-midweek encounters easier to absorb.
But this is not a good enough excuse for the continued failure of English clubs, especially as European football forms a crucial part of the prestigious history of Liverpool and Tottenham.
Rodgers and Pochettino will be failing themselves - and their club’s success-craving supporters - if they do not take the competition seriously.
They might even find that winning in Europe has a positive impact on their less-than-stellar league form, too.