Xenia Sports – London
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho says Manchester United will be one of the favourites to win the Europa League this season.
Mourinho’s former club drop into the secondary European competition after they were knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday with a 3-2 defeat at RB Leipzig.
United won the Europa League in 2016 under Mourinho, who will be looking to guide his current club Spurs to the top of the standings in Thursday’s Group J decider.
“Of course, now Manchester United become one of the top favorites to win the competition. The teams that drop down are always strong teams, teams that normally don’t belong to that level of the Europa League competition.
“Manchester United are one of the top teams. The group was very hard, PSG, Manchester and Leipzig, very hard. We all knew it was not going to be easy for any one of them and we all knew from that group a top team would drop into the Europa League.”
Real Madrid could also drop into the competition’s knock-out stages after the final night of their Champions League group, while Ajax could also join.
Mourinho admits that the quality of the tournament is enhanced by Champions League teams entering after Christmas, but questions the sporting integrity of it.
“It’s a point of principle, and if it happened to my team, I would feel exactly the same,” he said. “It is the way it is and honestly it brings more quality to the competition.
“We cannot forget that, when you have eight new teams in the competition and eight teams that belong to another level, and they drop to the Europa League of course the level of the competition is going to improve.
“No doubt the quality improves, the intensity improves and it’s a good thing for the competition. But from the sports point of view is when I think it’s not fair that a team that doesn’t succeed in one competition drops to another.
“It’s the same thing as if you imagine the third team in the Europa League now there is another competition and third in Europa League instead of finishing goes into the third competition in the hierarchy in European football.
“It’s just a principle in football when if for some reason we don’t succeed unlucky, next season. But it’s the way it is and it’s not a problem for me.”
Spurs will be keen to avoid the possibility of meeting a big gun in the first knock-out round by winning their group with a victory over Antwerp.
Mourinho’s side were well beaten in Belgium in the return fixture, with the boss memorably making four half-time substitutions, but he fancies them to finish the job in north London.
“If before the first match you tell us that in the last match we are qualified and we have that in the pocket and we have the chance to win it and to be first in the group I would say immediately yes,” he said.
“We did our job. Could do better but could be worse. We did our job to qualify in the first five matches and now in one game at home, with 2,000 fans behind us, we have the chance to play one game to try to win the group.
“Is that fundamental? I don’t think it is. I don’t think we should be afraid of playing any team in the next phase, but of course normally the teams that win the groups are the best teams so if you can avoid them in the next draw I think it will be an advantage.”
Mourinho confirmed that Serge Aurier will miss the game with a knock, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be rested.
Tanguy Ndombele is back after missing the north London derby on Sunday.
“Serge will miss the game yes, because he had that problem before Arsenal,” Mourinho added. “He is still not completely recovered, he had a reaction from the game.
“Pierre, no problems, it is just the fact that he is playing every match. He played last week three matches of 90 minutes, played Thursday in Austria and played and he played against Arsenal again.
“Now is his time, because we always try to give a rest to one or another player. Tanguy was a doubt until the last minute before Arsenal, now it is three or four days after. He is OK.”