Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is said to prefer his former club Manchester United and the other Champions League losers not to be allowed into the Europa League.
United will head to the round of 16 in the European secondary competition after their Champions League exit on Tuesday.
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They will be joined by the seven other teams who finished third in their group, including Ajax and Shakhtar Donetsk, making Spurs’ path to European glory even more difficult.
Mourinho believes the sporting integrity of the competition is in question and says United, who won it under their former boss in 2016, are now among the favorites to lift the trophy in May.
“It’s a matter of principle, and if it happened to my team I would feel exactly the same,” said Mourinho, whose team ended their Europa League Group J campaign against Royal Antwerp on Thursday.
“It’s like that and honestly, it brings more quality to the competition.
“We can’t forget that when you have eight new teams in the competition – eight teams that belong to another level and move on to the Europa League – of course the level of the competition will improve.
“There is no doubt that the quality is improving, the intensity is improving and that’s a good thing for the competition. But from a sporting point of view, that’s when I think it’s not fair that a team that doesn’t succeed in one competition moves on to another.
“It’s the same as if you imagined the third team in the Europa League, now there is another competition and the third in the Europa League instead of finishing, enters the third competition in the hierarchy of European football.
“Of course Manchester United are now becoming one of the top favorites to win the competition.
“The teams that give up are always strong teams, teams that do not normally belong to this level of the Europa League competition.
“Manchester United are one of the best teams. The group was very tough, PSG, Manchester and Leipzig, very tough.
“We all knew it wasn’t going to be easy for any of them and we all knew that thanks to this group, a top team would enter the Europa League.”
The Spurs will avoid the big guns if they can beat Antwerp and finish at the top of their group.
The Belgians have the advantage, however, after knocking out Spurs in Antwerp in the October reverse game.
Head coach Ivan Leko said the Premier League side took their men lightly that night.
Asked whether Spurs underestimated Antwerp, Leko said: “Yes a bit, to be honest, for the little Antwerp boy to beat Tottenham who are a top team, leader in the Premier League, there had to be had a few circumstances and one of these in the beginning, they didn’t expect my team to be as high as us.
“We know one of the reasons we won was because Tottenham weren’t on top and when Tottenham is on top we don’t stand a chance. Tomorrow knowing their manager he absolutely wants to win everything so I can promise we will try to be ready and hope Tottenham has a bad day.