Spurs star Alderweireld: Europa League is improving and we will benefit from the experience
EXCLUSIVE: Toby Alderweireld says the Europa League is improving every year – and he believes the experience of playing on the continent can aid the development of Tottenham’s young squad.
Spurs top Group J after the first round of games earlier this month, having beaten Azerbaijani outfit FK Qarabag 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
However, they face a tougher challenge tomorrow (Thursday) as they visit a Monaco side who finished third in the French Ligue 1 last season and have Portuguese stars Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao and Joao Moutinho in their ranks.
Alderweireld featured in the 2014 Champions League final when his former club Atletico Madrid faced Real Madrid.
And, although he admits the Europa League is a step down, he feels it is becoming more prestigious and is worth taking seriously.
“I think the Europa League is important,” he said. “It’s changed a lot. Of course it’s not the Champions League but it’s changing a lot, there are a lot of good teams now.
“We’re in a group with Anderlecht, they’re not a bad team. Monaco are not a bad team so it’s not like you play against unknown teams. It’s a better level every year so we want to go as far as possible and let’s see what happens against Monaco.
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“As you see with last year, the competition is improving so we want to make a good statement. But we know the competition is also coming so we try to put out the best team we can, and that’s up to the manager.
“It’s very different, playing in the Premier League and the Europa League. It’s the way of playing, the style of playing is different, so for everybody it’s good to play those kinds of games to get experience.
“We have a big group, and it’s not because the guys are not playing at the weekends that they are playing on Thursday or something.
“We have a very good group and I think the manager wants to play a lot of players because they deserve a chance because of the way they train, so we are working as a group and that’s important and hopefully we can get a good result.”
Alderweireld scored his first goal for Tottenham on Saturday, heading Mauricio Pochettino’s side into the lead after the break as they came from behind to beat Manchester City at White Hart Lane.
“I’m very happy with the three points,” he said. “We worked very hard for it, it was difficult, especially in the first half - we went 1-0 down and Man City were very strong.
“Of course it helped when we scored just before half-time to make it 1-1, but I think we played very well. Mentally and physically we were at the top and in the end we deserved to win.
“Of course we knew that City are a wonderful team, especially up front – they have a lot of quality. That’s why I’m very happy that, while we scored four goals, we didn’t give them a lot.
“Hugo [Lloris] saved us a couple of times but in the second half when we had to defend as a team we did, not only created.
“The defenders and even the midfielders, they worked so hard for us and it makes it easy when we work as a team and compete as a team, that’s very important.”
After Spurs threw away a two-goal lead in their 2-2 draw against Stoke on August 15, summer signing Alderweireld urged his team-mates to keep the pressure on their opponents in midfield, highlighting how important Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama were in front of Southampton’s rearguard last season.
Six weeks on, Tottenham look much more solid, only conceding once in their last four league games and having the joint-best defensive record in the top flight, having shipped five goals in their opening seven games.
“We are training hard for that and trying to improve our game,” said Alderweireld. “We have young talent in the group and it doesn’t always go well, but now I think everybody’s doing better and better in every game and we play as a team. We know how to defend, we know how to attack. I think that’s a big plus for the manager so we are improving and that’s important.
“We can enjoy this win but we have to improve our game. We’re just at the beginning now so we have a long way to go but this is a good [progression].”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs