Xenia Sports – London
Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho would rather his former club Manchester United and other Champions League losers were not allowed to enter the Europa League.
United will head into the knockout stages of Europe’s secondary competition after their Champions League exit on Tuesday.
They will be joined by the seven other teams who finished third in their group, including the likes of Ajax and Shakhtar Donetsk, making Spurs’ path to European glory that much tougher.
Mourinho believes the sporting integrity of the competition comes into question and says United, who won it under their former boss in 2016, are now among the favourites to lift the trophy in May.
“It’s a point of principle, and if it happened to my team, I would feel exactly the same,” said Mourinho, whose side finish their Europa League Group J campaign against Royal Antwerp on Thursday.
“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 – 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 sport 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.
“Of course, now Manchester United become one of the top favourites 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.”
Spurs will avoid the big guns if they can beat Antwerp and finish top of their group.
The Belgian side have the advantage, though, after they stunned Spurs in Antwerp in October’s reverse fixture.
Head coach Ivan Leko said the Premier League side took his men lightly that night.
Asked if Spurs underestimated Antwerp, Leko said: “Yes a little bit, to be honest, for small Antwerp to beat Tottenham who are a top team, leaders in the Premier League, there needed to be a few circumstances and one of these in the beginning was that they didn’t expect my team to be on such a level we were.
“We know that one of the reasons we won was because Tottenham was not on top and when Tottenham is top we don’t have any chance. Tomorrow knowing their coach, he wants to win absolutely everything, so I can promise that we will try to be ready and hoping for Tottenham to have a bad day.”