It was announced on December 2, 2018, that UEFA would have a third club competition below the Champions League (UCL) and the Europa League (UEL). In essence the “third division” of European football.
Immediately many have come to criticise UEFA, stating that this new competition is milking the success and vast sums of money produced by both European competitions.
While that criticism is valid, nobody can deny the fact that the Europa League needs fixing and more provisions are necessary for the "lesser" European sides. The third division provides essential fix and support.
How it all Works
The competition is exactly like its two sister tournaments. A qualification process which in the end will leave 32 teams in eight equal groups of four. Then the top two teams will go into the knockout phase of the tournament.
Unlike the Champions League, there will be no demotion to a lower competition for the third-placed team in each group that is in the Europa League 2.
The winner of the whole competition is likely to gain automatic entrance into the Europa League the following season. Similar to how the Europa League winners get automatic entry into the Champions League for the next season.
The qualification process is a bit complicated and based on the UEFA coefficient criteria as is set in the Europa League and Champions League.
This competition is meant for the "lesser" European teams and nations, meaning that individual associations will only have a limited amount of berths (clubs that qualify) for the tournament.
Below are the allowed clubs that can enter based on what nation they derive.
- Nations Ranked 1 to 5, shall only have one berth.
- Nations Ranked 6 to 15, shall only have two berths.
- Nations Ranked 16 to 51, shall only have three berths.
- Nations Ranked 52 to 54, shall only have two berths.
- Nation Ranked 55th shall only have one berth.
- Liechtenstein Football Cup winner shall be submitted.
Qualification for this tournament is based on domestic cup success and final league positioning. All official distributions will be sorted out by UEFA over the coming year or two.
As you can tell from the above qualification steps, the Europa League 2 is for the teams that fail to qualify for the Champions League and Europa League via early rounds, and for nations that are not dominant in European football.
The qualification process has three qualifying rounds and a playoff round. As is with the case of Europa League qualifying, Europa League 2 qualifying will have teams that drop down from both above competitions.
This new competition will change the format of the already existing two tournaments.
The Europa League will be shortened from the already existing 48 team structure in the group stage down to 32 teams – just like the Champions League and the new Europa League 2.
After the group stage finishes, the top two teams in each group enter into the knockout rounds. There is a slight alteration to the format for the Europa League and Europa League 2 knockout structure.
As is the case currently, the top two teams go to the knockout rounds. However, the first placed teams get an automatic bye into the Round of 16. The second-placed teams have a preliminary knockout round that takes place before the Round of 16.
In the Europa League, the preliminary knockout round will have the second-placed group stage teams directly face off against the third-placed group stage teams from the Champions League. For the Europa League 2, it is the same.
The second-placed group stage teams in the Europa League 2 will directly face off against the third-placed group stage teams from the Europa League.
A draw will decide the preliminary knockout round fixtures. The teams dropping down from the above European competition will be in one pot, the second-placed teams will be in the second pot.
This seeding process is a considerable benefit as it ensures that "higher quality" opposition stay in the competition longer, at least to the Round of 16 proper.
After the preliminary knockout round has finished, the winners of that round will directly face off against the winners of the Europa League groups who gained an automatic bye into the Round of 16.
The seeding process is similar to the previous knockout round. The winners of the groups who won an automatic bye will be in one pot while the winners of the preliminary knockout round will be in another pot.
Again this solidifies that "higher quality" clubs and teams that deserve to compete have the opportunity to prolong their European campaigns.
How Does This Benefit Football?
So what does this all mean? Why does it matter?
First off it fixes the Europa League which is a disaster as is. The competition is trimmed down becoming more competitive and thanks to the preliminary knockout round it ensures that "bigger clubs" and more deserving teams are staying in Europe for longer.
Secondly, European football is hard to come by for teams in the mid-ranked associations, or in leagues where a consistent group of clubs dominates the European places. This competition provides an opportunity for clubs to gain European football that generally does not have the chance to do so.
The Europa League 2 refreshes the domestic cup competitions in European leagues. Many associations have one domestic cup competition, the winner gaining an opportunity to qualify for Europe. Some nations, however, have two domestic cup competitions such as England and France.
The reward of a European place for winning the second domestic cup competition provides an incentive for clubs that are looking to break into Europe.
This competition can also fix the club and nation coefficients. The Nations League overtime organises the associations ranking for UEFA. That competition can properly place nations and give a more accurate representation of who is the strongest in Europe by the Nations League competition.
The Europa League 2 can do the same. With more teams getting involved in Europe, it can give a more accurate representation of where the strength of teams and leagues lies in Europe.
With this expanded competition, it will allow for clubs that generally fail to contain a European campaign or even get into the group stages to display their strengths. Over time this process will enable the club and nation coefficients to be adjusted more accurately.
Another essential benefit to this competition is that it spreads the wealth of European football to leagues and clubs that do not regularly receive any income from a European campaign.
Even though the money is considerably less than that of the Champions League, there is still income available for teams that could genuinely use the additional investment. Not every team has the rich spoils of the Premier League or Champions League available to them.
There are many benefits to this new competition. UEFA has done well with this announcement of the Europa League 2, and as for now, it seems like it will fix several wrongs with UEFA competitions.
The only thing that we can complain about is the name. Let us hope UEFA does not label it Europa League 2, come up with a better name, please.