For some heavyweight clubs the Europa competitions are proving a tricky balancing act and as the groups hit halfway this week big clubs such as Leicester and Napoli risk falling hard.
Leicester thrashed Manchester United 4-2 in the Premier League on Saturday but manager Brendan Rodgers’ habit of resting players in Europe means they are last in Group C on one point as they travel to Moscow to face Spartak on Wednesday.
Leicester started a reserve team for their visit to eastern Europe on the second match day, did not manage a shot on target and lost 1-0 in Warsaw.
Now they have an even longer round trip and follow it with a tricky visit to Brentford in the Premier League on Sunday.
“We will pick a team to win the game,” Rodgers said in Moscow on Tuesday. “We have all of our fit players here because it’s a very important game for us.”
Asked whether Jamie Vardy, who played the last two minutes against Napoli and the last six against Legia, would start, Rodgers answered: “You will see tomorrow.”
Captain Ricardo Pereira said Leicester need to start winning in Europe.
“We can’t wait until the last games,” he said. “Usually we need to get about 10 points. We can’t wait any more.”
Leicester have surprising company at the foot of Group C. Napoli are top of Serie A after winning all eight of their domestic league matches — a winning goal from Nigerian international forward Victor Osimhen kept that record alive against Torino on Sunday — but are yet to win in the Europa League.
In the last round they played 60 minutes with 10 men and lost 3-2 at home to Spartak. On Thursday they need to win in Warsaw against leaders Legia.
Other heavyweights who are winless in the Europa League include Rangers, Marseille and Real Sociedad. Rangers are already six points behind Group A leaders Lyon but can make up ground as they host fellow stragglers Brondby.
Real Sociedad are in a tough Group B with Monaco and PSV and after drawing with those two can push themselves into contention by beating pointless Sturm Graz.
Meanwhile, West Ham, making their Europa League debut, fielded strong teams in their first two games and have already built a three-point lead in Group H before they host Genk, although they will have one eye on a London derby against Tottenham on Sunday.
‘Flesh and blood’
Spurs, playing against weaker opposition in the inaugural Europa Conference League, have tried to expend the minimum amount of energy in qualifying and the result has been the maximum anxiety.
Tottenham left their first team at home for a qualifying round visit to Pacos Ferreira and needed Harry Kane to rescue them in the return leg.
In Group G, they started reserves at Rennes and at home to Mura and in both games needed to call Kane and company off the bench to rescue the four points they have.
Following a winning trip to Newcastle on Sunday and with West Ham looming, they seem unlikely to start their stars against Vitesse in Arnhem.
“It’s nice to win and get that winning feeling and hopefully we continue now in Europe in the week and then next week against West Ham,” said Kane after the Newcastle win.
Meanwhile Group C leaders Roma travel beyond the Arctic Circle to face second place Bodo/Glimt.
Even though Bodo are the Norwegian champions and started the season in the and Champions League, coach Kjetil Knutse played the underdog card when he talked of Roma boss Jose Mourinho.
“He’s a flesh and blood man like the rest of us,” Knutse said, adding his team “can achieve the most incredible things.”