Europa League is about as bittersweet as football gets. And a fifth place finish in 2014/15 means Spurs will spend another season weighing the pros of “being in Europe” against the cons of playing Thursday nights in the furthest reaches of the former Soviet Union.
The ultimate gripe amongst Spurs supporters is of course that Europa League is hurting Tottenham’s chances of a top four finish and a berth the other European tournament. This is true, and the statistics prove it.
Using results from the past three seasons, I constructed a statistical model which lets us estimate the impact of certain variables on Spurs’ match-by-match performance. Controlling for home advantage and strength of opponent, the model shows that Tottenham’s expected goal differential for a Sunday Premier League match decreases by roughly .7 goals on average if Spurs play a Europa League match on the Thursday before.
This is significant, but it’s when we look at the effect on Spurs’ expected points per match that we can truly start to understand how big of an impact the Europa League has. Again controlling for home advantage and strength of opponent, Spurs’ expected points from a Sunday Premier League match decreases by .7 points on average if they play a Thursday night Europa League match. The Europa League group stage alone, with six matches in total, costs Spurs roughly four Premier League points. The table below compares Tottenham’s true final point total and position for the past three seasons to the expected point total and expected position had Spurs not played in Europa League.
|Season||Actual Finish||Projected Finish Without Europa League|
|12/13||5th (72pts)||3rd (78pts)|
|13/14||6th (69pts)||5th (77pts)|
|14/15||5th (64pts)||5th (70 pts)|
According to the model, Tottenham would’ve secured roughly six additional points in 2012-13, eight additional points in 2013-14, and six additional points in 2014-15. Obviously, no Europa League is no bet that Spurs will crack the top four, but the likelihood certainly improves.
Yes, Tottenham spends less than the clubs regularly occupying the Champions League places, and yes, spending tends to dictate success in the long run. But in a season without midweek trips north of the North Pole and the like, the odds of sneaking into forth seem just a bit better.
For now, however, the Lilywhites are in limbo, good enough to offer hope for a top four finish, but also good enough to play in the Europa League. Not mutually exclusive, but closer to being so than we might like.