English sides must end Europa League disregard to earn success
Lee Gormley | February 4, 2016
Europa League overlooked by English clubs
The Champions League is undoubtedly the pinnacle of club football, with success in this coveted competition earning the righteous victor huge financial benefits as well as the desired title of Europe’s elite outfit.
Though, below the glitz and glam of the primary European event lies the Europa League, still regarded highly by those lucky enough to be involved, but sadly overlooked by teams seemingly hailed as too ‘big’ to take it as serious.
Such disregard for Europe’s secondary club competition stems primarily from clubs contesting in England’s Premier League, with sides naively overlooking the rich incentives that actually come from lifting the trophy in May each year.
England’s representatives in this season’s Europa League knockout stage are all of Liverpool, who are 11/1 with Coral to win, Manchester United and Tottenham, with each top-flight outfit involved in contrasting domestic campaigns, but likely sharing a similar European outlook.
Competition should be taken seriously
With the old days of the more regarded UEFA Cup having past, a competition which clubs were truly determined to succeed in, the Europa League has suffered a decline in stature from England’s high-profile contingency.
Yes, with their Champions League prospects having ended this term or early Europa League group games taking their toll, the second prize may not always give much encouragement to the Premier League stars, but really, it should.
English teams should in fact be taking the Europa League seriously, for a number of reasons, with the main plus being the direct passage among Europe’s elite if the overlooked trophy is ultimately clinched.
The three top tier clubs now embarking on their Europa League ventures can either approach their time in the knockout stage as simply a hindrance to their domestic duties, one which has been a constant theme in recent seasons, or more respectfully attempt to capitalise on this opportunity.
Current crop’s chances of European success
Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils will be the fallen European giants most likely to overlook their current situation in favour of battling back up the Premier League table, having haplessly exited the Champions League at the group stage.
The Old Trafford outfit were summoned to the competition after failing to emerge from Group B, instead seeing Bundesliga’s Wolfsburg and Dutch powerhouses PSV Eindhoven progress to the more prestigious round of 32.
Man Utd have been installed as 10/1 third-favourites overall to prevail, while they lead the way in terms of most likely English winners, with Mauricio Pochettino’s capital club seen as 18/1 outsiders to succeed.
Spurs have been extremely impressive domestically, becoming surprise title challengers at this latter stage of the campaign and, with their Argentine coach getting the best out of the likes of star man Harry Kane and England prospect Dele Alli, Europa League glory isn’t beyond reach.
Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp will see this competition as a great way to win over the Anfield faithful, not that he hasn’t done so already with his flamboyant touchline theatrics, and his Liverpool squad have the capabilities to triumph.
Of course, it is still early, but promising draws for Man Utd and Liverpool, who face Midtjylland and Augsburg respectively, should see them make strong knockout stage starts, if taken seriously in terms of squad selections. Though, Spurs face a tougher task after being paired with Serie A force Fiorentina, in two legs which will truly test their credentials.
Pochettino’s Premier League priority trend
Despite his Spurs side holding a great chance to clinch silverware success in Europe, Pochettino hinted towards making the most of his squad in the upcoming clashes with Fiorentina, instead following the usual trend of focusing on domestic hopes.
“I am very pleased with the performance, it was a fantastic victory against a very good team. We dominated the game from the beginning to the end,” stated the South American coach after his team’s cup win over Leicester City.
“The FA Cup is an important competition for us and we showed we have a squad that is good enough to compete in every competition.
“We have also the Premier League and Europa League and I think it is very important to keep the squad fit and working hard, and the FA Cup is very important for this. We are having a fantastic season, we are at a fantastic level.
“It is difficult to be fair to players but there is fantastic spirit in the changing room and in the training ground.
“I don’t like to speak about change. For me, when you have 24 or 25 players they all work very hard and some players deserve to play and can’t – you can only pick 11 and seven on the bench.”
With Spurs seemingly set to prioritise league commitments, while Van Gaal looks likely of following suit and Liverpool gaze ahead to a League Cup final, England’s delegates may face a familiar failed outcome in their potentially lacklustre European efforts.
Premier League sides have great opportunity
All three Premier League clubs have a grand opportunity to make a statement in Europe, with the Europa League a clear pathway to both silverware success this season and a great chance to arrive on the main stage for next term.
In spite of that, recent reports have suggested that the Premier League may offer it’s Europa League representatives financial incentives to field stronger sides and genuinely make a challenge.
Such talk has occurred after the top-flight division came under threat of losing a Champions League place, with three teams therefore entering, like it is in Italy currently.
Despite Chelsea triumphing in 2013 and local rivals Fulham reaching the final in 2010, the Europa League has always been taken more seriously by teams from Spain, Portugal and even Russia.
La Liga club Sevilla showcased their true talents under Unai Emery last term, rallying to successive Europa League victories by overcoming surprise Ukrainian package Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the Poland-based final, becoming the record holders in the process.
Sevilla catalyst for Europa League rewards
With English sides constantly overlooking the Europa League in favour of fighting to secure a Champions League place the conventional domestic way, Sevilla have continued to thrive in the competition and are 14/1 to secure an incredible third consecutive crown.
Such an achievement would be remarkable, having proved their worth on this secondary European stage, and it’s a successful approach that Premier League competitors should be aiming to emulate.
Sevilla were summoned to a UEFA Super Cup clash with reigning Champions League victors Barcelona at the beginning of this campaign for their 2015 Europa League heroics, but were agonisingly overcome in a thrilling extra time defeat.
Nevertheless, another trophy was up for grabs, and they were also rewarded with a group stage place among Europe’s elite too. The Bathtubs faced a challenging campaign though, eventually being pipped to knockout places by a solid Manchester City side and last year’s finalists Juventus.
The defending Europa League champions now arrive back on the platform they have taken by storm in two straight seasons, and clubs from the Premier League could enjoy a similarly successful trail in future campaigns by following the Bathtubs’ proven blueprint.
Read our extensive Europa League archive.
Have a look at the full draw for the Europa League knockout stage.