Arsenal beating Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, gave the Gunners a trophy and a trip directly into the group stage of the Europa League, at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur.
Tottenham Hotspur had long lost control of their own destiny with the terrible start to the season and the many injuries the team suffered. As the season came to an end, Spurs needed one of their rivals – Chelsea – to win twice to ensure Tottenham’s place at the Europa League group stage.
While Chelsea delivered against Wolverhampton on the last day of the Premier League season, they failed to come through in the last match of the year losing 2-1 to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
Instead of Tottenham Hotspur starting in October after the group stage draw, Spurs will be trudging through multiple rounds of qualifying in mid-to-late September to make it to the group stage. So, who is in and who is out and what do Spurs need to do from here?
Premier League in Europe
As of this moment, there are seven teams from the Premier League qualified for European competition next season, four in the Champions League and three in the Europa League. Liverpool as champions of the league have automatic entry alone with the rest of the top four finishers – Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United – in that order.
There was some question for a while about whether Manchester City would be allowed to play any European competition due to a run-in with FIFA Fair Play and some questionable accounting and financing practices. Ultimately, the Court of Arbitration of Sport did what UEFA wanted and forced City to fine/pay them a few million dollars and that was that, so City is in and fifth place stays in Europa League.
Speaking of the Europa League, Leicester City automatically qualified as the fifth-place team in the Premier League this past season. While a noteworthy achievement many of the players would have taken at the start of the season, given the Foxes started the re-start in third, I doubt it is the competition the players and fans really wanted. But such is life and Leicester City is in, as is Arsenal.
By virtue of the victory over Chelsea and lifting the FA Cup, the Gunners qualified for the group stage of the competition. Which takes us to the Carabao or League Cup, which was won by Manchester City. Since City are already qualified for the higher-level Champions League, their place in the competition falls to the sixth-place team and bam, Spurs are in the little big dance.
Note, besides these seven teams, an eighth Premier League team, Wolverhampton, still has a shot at the Champions League next season. If Wolves can win the current Europa League – they along with Manchester United are two of 16 teams remaining – they are automatically in the group stage of the Champions League. That has no impact on Tottenham, outside of the transfer market advantage Wolves would then hold.
In any case for Spurs, given the FA Cup and fifth-place come before the Carabao Cup replacements, Tottenham Hotspur made it to Europe, but they have some way to go before they can even reach the group stage draw. So what comes next and what do Spurs have to do to be in the group stage?
Europa League qualifying
Tottenham Hotspur has been dropped into Round 2 of qualifying for the Europa League where they, along with some 47 first-round qualifying winners and some 26 other domestic qualifiers, make up the Main Path group of 74 teams waiting for 20 teams eliminated from Champions League Qualifying and the Round 2 draw set for August 31. Those 94 teams will play a single-leg – cut down from a two-leg affair due to timing from COVID-19 – on September 17 then 47 of those teams will advance to the third round of qualifying.
The draw for the third round will have already occurred, as it happens on October 1, just a day after the Round 2 draw, so who Tottenham may face for both Round 2 and Round 3 would be known pretty early in the process. That third round would be just a week after the second round match on September 24.
Note the 74 Main Path teams do not interact with the 20 Champions Path teams so 37 teams advance from the Main Path – which Spurs are a part of – and 10 teams advance on the Champions League Path. As part of that main path, another 15 teams are added for 52 total Round 3 main path teams. Should Spurs win that match – again only one leg – they would advance to the Playoff Round of the qualifying stages of the Europa League.
The playoff round is set to be drawn on September 18 – right after Round 2 – and to be played on October 1. At that point, 26 Main Path teams – of which Tottenham Hotspur is a part – play one another as do 16 teams from the Champions Path, and all 21 winners advance to join the 17 already qualified teams along with 10 teams from the Champions League qualifying rounds, giving us the total of 48 teams.
Those 48 teams will be drawn into the group stage on October 2, with the group stages set to run from October 22 through December 10, followed by a Round of 32 beginning in February 2021.
While Spurs are somewhat fortunate that these qualifying ties are not the typical two-legged affairs, that adds pressure and will lead to a LOT of early fixture congestion for the squad. However, if Spurs can manage three matches over three weeks, they can cash a decent check and start really playing for a European trophy.
What do you think, will Spurs navigate the path or truly only being playing on three fronts in 2020-21? Or was the progression being seen under Mourinho an illusion?