Manchester United’s dismal 2-1 defeat at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium to Turkish side Fenerbahce has left them third in Group A of this year’s Europa League competition. While a group also involving PSV Eindhoven was never expected to be easy, there is no good enough excuse for Jose Mourinho to hide behind, if United fail to reach the knockout phases of the tournament.
The heady days of the second half of the 2000s when English sides used to regularly make the Champions League semi finals have become a thing of the past – a billion dollar side boasting the most expensive player in the world falling at the first hurdle of Europe’s second tier competition would be a blow for the EPL as a whole.
Ever since the group stages were introduced at the Europa League/UEFA Cup in 2004, there have been multiple English casualties at that stage. This list takes a look at all the instances when an English side exited the competition at the group stages.
#1 Portsmouth 2008-09
Portsmouth qualified for the 2008-09 Europa League in style, winning the FA Cup final against Cardiff City. However, they were found wanting on the European stage, getting eliminated in the group stages.
The Europa League at the time was a mouse trap of a competition and the group stages weren’t even the first round of the tournament. 80 teams would compete in the opening round in a home & away knock out format and the 40 winners would reach the group stage consisting of 8 groups with 5 teams each. Three teams from each group would go on to the next round – the Round of 32 and the tournament would be a knockout from then on.
Portsmouth would get past round one, eliminating Vitoria Guimaraes – but were placed in a group stage comprising of Milan and Wolfsburg. Third place seemed to be their best option, with Braga and Heerenveen not the most formidable of challengers. Each team played the other only once and got to play two matches at home.
Pompey did play their hearts out in the first home match and led the mighty Milan 2-0 with just five minutes remaining. However, the Italians proved their European pedigree and the side comprising Ronaldinho and Inzaghi scored twice – the equaliser coming in the second minute of added time – to level proceedings. This match was sandwiched between two disappointing away matches – a 0-3 reverse at the hands of Braga and a 2-3 defeat at the Volkswagen Arena against Wolfsburg.
By the time the last match against Heerenveen came about, Porstmouth had already been eliminated. The English side did go out with a bang though, trouncing the Dutch side 3-0 at Fratton Park.
#2 Birmingham City 2011-12
Birmingham City had a bitter 2010 – 11 English Premier League campaign which saw them get relegated to the Championship via a single point. However, the saving grace was their League Cup victory, a 2-1 upset over heavy favourites Arsenal. This would ensure that the Midlands side would play in Europe while traversing the English second tier in 2012.
Birmingham would navigate the play-off round effectively, seeing off Portugese side Nacional 3-0 with all goals coming in the home leg at St. Andrew’s. They were put in to a group comprising Club Brugge, Maribor and that nemesis of English clubs – Braga, in the opening group stage round of the tournament proper.
The opening home match against Braga turned out to be a dismal 1-3 reverse, but the result only seemed to make the English side more resolute. Maribor were beaten 2-1 away and a controversial goal from New Zealand striker Chris Wood in the tenth minute of injury time would see Birmigham steal a victory against Brugge in Belgium.
City would play their heart once again against Brugge as the home leg saw the Midlands side trail 0-2 at half time, but came back to draw 2-2.
However matchday five would deal a terrible blow as Braga beat Birmingham 1-0 at the Municipal Stadium, courtesy of a Hugo Viana goal and Brugge would conjure up two late goals to beat Maribor away. The result meant that Braga and Brugge led City by three points going in to the last round of matches.
The permutations leading up to the final group game against Maribor meant that Birmingham would qualify if they beat the Slovenians and Braga defeated Brugge. City did their part, beating Maribor 1-0, but Bruge never looked like losing at their Jan Breydel Stadium and their match with Braga ended in a 1-1 draw. The result meant that Birmigham failed to get out of the group, despite scoring 10 points.
#3 Tottenham 2011-12
Birmingham were just the first of three English sides to exit the competition at the group stages in 2011-12, they were joined by two London sides, the first being pre-tournament favourite, Tottenham. Spurs waltzed past their play-off opponents, Scottish side Hearts 0-5 in the away game at Edinburgh’s Tynecastle stadium to reach the group stages where they met Rubin Kazan, Shamrock Rovers and PAOK of Greece.
A strong side comprising of Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe, Luka Modric and Roman Pavlyuchenko could only muster a goal-less draw against European minnows PAOK in their first game, but the alarm bells were swiftly silenced after consecutive home victories over Shamrock Rovers and Rubin Kazan.
Spurs would suffer a blip in the cold Russian winter as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Rubin next – but with two games left, they still seemed to be in prime position to go through. However, the wheels truly came off in the next match at White Hart Lane as PAOK stunned the Londoners 2-1 with two early strikes to ensure a place in the next round.
This, coupled with Rubin’s win against Shamrock Rovers meant that the slim chance for Spurs to go through would only be with a PAOK victory over Rubin in the next match and a Spurs win against Rovers, aided by a huge goal difference swing.
But a 1-1 draw between PAOK and Rubin at Thessaloniki ended Tottenham’s chances despite a 4-0 thrashing of Shamrock Rovers at Dublin. The only bright spot for Spurs would be the fact that a teenager named Harry Kane would score his first ever Spurs goal in the game’s second half injury time.
#4 Fulham 2011-12
The 2011-12 European season was one of highs and lows for English sides – Chelsea would win the UEFA Champions League, but it also saw terrible performances from the other English sides. Arsenal went out in the round of 16 of the Champions League and the two Manchester Clubs went down to the Europa League after group stage exits in the Champions League and were promptly eliminated in the R16 of that competition as well.
Only plucky Stoke City successfully navigated the Europa League group stages that season and the third English side to fall in the 2011-12 Europa League group stages – after Spurs and Birmingham – were Fulham. The London side had a dream run in the 2009-10 edition, reaching the final after eliminating Italian Champions, Juventus, German Champions, Wolfsburg, and Hamburg, only to lose to Atletico Madrid in extra time.
This time, Fulham had reached the competition via the Fair play route and endured four qualifying rounds to reach the group stages, where they were handed a relatively straight forward draw comprising of Twente, Wisla Krakow and Odense. A Mark Schwarzer own goal led to a 1-1 draw with Twente in their opening match, but Fulham returned to winning ways away at Odense, with English striker Andy Johnson in sublime form.
The Cottagers would lose the next match away to Wisla, but would come back to rout the Polish opposition 4-1 in the home leg. Seven points in the bag with two games left – Fulham were in pole position to go through when their luck dramatcially changed.
Austrian Marc Janko would score a last minute winner for Twente against Fulham in the next match to ensure that the Dutch side progressed as group winners with a game left. Fulham were still in second place when they welcomed rock bottom Odense to Craven Cottage – where they had never lost a European game – and they only needed to match Wisla Krakow’s result against Twente to qualify.
Goals from Clint Dempsey and Kerim Frei meant that Fulham took a 2-0 lead at half time whereas Wisla and Twente were all square at Krakow. The second half saw Wisla take the lead against the Dutch side and Hans Andreason pulled one back for Odense – but as things stood, Fulham would still go through.
However, deep in to the third minute of injury time, Senegalese striker Baye Fall headed the ball in to Fulham’s net to snatch the equaliser for Odense with virtually the last touch of the game. Fulham had no chance to regroup and Wisla would leapfrog them in to second place in the group.
#5 Wigan Athletic 2013-14
Wigan Athletic would have the greatest year in their history in terms of silverware at the 2012-13 season, capturing the FA Cup for the first time with a victory over Manchester City in the final. However, a mere three days ater that triumph, relegation from the English Premier League would be confirmed with a defeat to Arsenal.
The saving grace for next season would be an automatic place in the Europa League group stages owing to that Cup win – the first ever foray in to Europe for the Manchester-based club.
Wigan were handed a group comprising of Rubin Kazan, Maribor and Belgian side Zulte Waregem. The English second tier side started well and were unbeaten after the first three sets of matches, beating Maribor and drawing the other two games, sitting second on the table.
However, the customary away defeat at Rubin was followed by a surprise home loss to a Thorgan Hazard-inspired Zulte and Wigan found themselves in a three-way tussle involving Zulte and Maribor to claim second place in the group behind Rubin.
Wigan could have qualified with an away victory on the final match day at bottom side Maribor, provided Zulte lost at home to Rubin. A Jordi Gomez penalty put the Latics in pole position in Slovenia only to see Maribor equalise within two minutes.
Zulte conceded two late goals to lose their match against Rubin, meaning that if there was a winner in the Maribor - Wigan match, that side would progress to the next round. There would indeed be a winner at the Ljudski vrt stadium, but it wouldn’t be Wigan.
Zelijko Filipovic would give Maribor the lead and despite having just 36% possession, the Slovenians would hold out for the rest of the bad-tempered match which would see both sides finish with ten men.
The Slovenians progressed despite starting the night in last place and Wigan were left to rue their insipid performances in the second half of the group stages which saw them lose all three games.