The Europa League is often viewed as an unwanted distraction by English Premier League managers as they chase a more prestigious Champions League place.
But while finishing in the top four still remains the priority, the incentive of a ticket into the Champions League for the Europa League winner, introduced in 2015, has changed perceptions.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino can agree on that.
Their clubs head the betting to lift the Europa League trophy after it resumes tonight.
United host France’s Saint-Etienne, and Spurs travel to face Belgium’s Gent in last 32 first-leg matches.
Mourinho said in November that giving the winner of the Europa League a Champions League place gave the competition a “different meaning,” and he was unlikely to field a weakened side despite United’s hectic fixture schedule.
As well as chasing a top four spot in the Premier League – United is in sixth place – it has reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, and plays in the League Cup final against Southampton on February 26.
The prospect of United’s Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive player, coming up against his older brother Florentin, a defender for Saint-Etienne, has given the game an extra edge.
“It’s something for the whole family to enjoy because I don’t know if it will happen again,” Florentin told UEFA.com.
“My parents will have mixed feelings because whatever happens there will be one winner and one loser. However, there are two winners because this game will be an unforgettable occasion.”
Spurs enter the Europa League after being eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage, and Pochettino, like Mourinho, has more of a positive view of the competition now.
“We need to think of it as a good opportunity to win a trophy,” he said. – AP