First, the good news. The weight of history and statistics backs Newcastle United as they look to end their White Hart Pain.
Alan Pardew’s long-held belief the Europa League has a detrimental effect on teams playing in it is backed up by The Journal’s research.
From 84 league games played by Europa League qualifiers after their Thursday game since the format was modified in 2009, the average number of points won is a meagre 1.4.
The various teams involved in the Europa League’s war of attrition have racked up a collective total of 35 defeats post European games and just 31 wins in those games – meaning the loss ratio is 42% while the win ratio is a disappointing 36%.
Good news, right? Well, not quite. For Tottenham more than anyone seem to have mastered the balance required to sustain good league form while also taking a tilt at European competition.
Spurs have played 24 games post-Europe and won 15. They’ve lost just eight. That means they’re bucking the trend significantly with a win ratio of 63% and an average points total of 1.92pts. In laymen’s terms, they usually win after playing in Europe.
The relevance of all of this is that yesterday, Pardew was talking European football again.
It is a theme the United boss has returned to time and again during the last 12 months, but on this occasion it was mentioned in hope rather than worry.
By the end of last season, there was a sense the crowd was growing weary of the Europa League debate.
When Pardew – in jest and relief more than anything – thanked the heavens Newcastle would not be playing in European competiton towards the end of the season it prompted outrage at the size of United’s ambitions.
Why, a fair few pondered, are we bothering if the club don’t want to be in Europe?
It was a point which had merit. Newcastle last season were not strong enough to sustain a serious effort both at home and in Europe and that was partly because of a decision at the top not to add significant numbers to the squad. Ultimately, they reaped what they sowed.
Yet Newcastle seem stronger this season – their planning for games seems more meticulous and the players less fatigued than last year.
Even so, they are on exactly the same goal difference and points that they were last season.
Pardew said: “The difference is the Europa League.
“The experience those guys we brought in in January have had by now, they have settled in quite nicely. Massadio (Haidara), whose injury is not nearly as bad as we first thought, he is nearly back in trianing and will start next week. Moussa (Sissoko), Mapou (Yanga-Mbiwa) and (Vurnon) Anita are growing in confidence with the games they are getting.”
There is a wider problem for medium-sized Premier League clubs in that around the autumn-time very few who have leaped into the Europa League are able to cope with the dual burdens.
Tottenham might have been insulated because they carry a Champions League-size squad – a reflection on the heavy investment at White Hart Lane – but Swansea are already showing signs of suffering. For Pardew, there is a measure of vindication here.
He added: “I think it is a difficult competition for Premier League clubs and I have always said that.
“I do not think it is fair in the modern game, with the physical demands there are, to be playing Thursday night and Sunday.
“It is tough, and tough on Spurs, but the advantage they have over us last year is numbers and quality numbers and experience as well – a lot more of Europe than we had, and that is the staff as well so that gives them a slightly stronger hand, but it has helped us, I am not going to say it doesn’t.”
So why are the club stronger this year than last?
Pardew believes it is due to the work being done on the training ground.
He said: “That comes from having more training time because Europa League takes away from training time.
“We have been able to work on the team a little bit more and on the individuals. That has been reflected. Last year, it was very difficult to work on Sammy Ameobi when you jump from game to game as Spurs are doing this week. So that has been a bonus for us.
“I genuinely think there is a good spirit among the group. They like each other. They believe in each other and that is being reflected on the pitch.
“In the Barclays Premier League, a strong Newcastle is always good.
“We have been a bit up and down in certain games but we have been good entertainment this year.”