For years the Europa League has been viewed as a burden for English clubs, with the extra strain on teams having to travel to the far reaches of Europe on Thursday nights being deemed too much of a hassle. But following Sevilla FC's record-breaking sixth Europa League title, is it time English clubs changed their approach to the competition?
Along the way to their Europa League triumph this season, Sevilla FC were responsible for throwing both Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers out of the competition. Arsenal's exit was more embarrassing than their fellow countrymen, as they were left feeling redder than the empty seats at the Emirates as they were defeated by Greek side Olympiacos.
Is the tide beginning to change?
It could be argued that there has recently been a shift of priorities in recent seasons, with Manchester United and more recently Chelsea both winning the Europa League in 2017 and 2019 respectively. This is certainly an improvement from teams sending second fiddle sides to play games in the competition.
This begs the question, should more English teams be seeking success in the competition?
In the last few seasons, the Premier League has seen a trend of Manchester City and Liverpool setting the standard, whilst the rest of the league are way off the pace. Despite the growing gap between the top two teams and the rest, fight to qualify for the Champions League has never been more intense.
For the majority of last season, it appeared Leicester City would clinch a European spot, spending a long period in third place and even threatening City at second place at times. However, they came up short at the final hurdle- surrendering their place to Manchester United on the final day of the season.
Sheffield United suffered a similar fate, occupying fifth place and breaking into the top four for long spells, only to fall behind the pace after Project Restart. If not for poor starts, both Spurs and Wolves could've have caused serious problems, both finishing on 59 points, seven off both third and fourth placed Chelsea and Manchester United.
Do these outcomes make a case for the Europa League?
Although the Europa League is deemed an extra burden in an already difficult to manage fixture calendar, success in the competition does not only guarantee a major European honour, but a route into the Champions League group stages the following season.
The quality of Manchester City and Liverpool effectively means there are only two available Champions League spots via the league and therein lies the problem for the rest of the big clubs. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs all demand to be in the Champions League year in year out, whilst Leicester and Wolves are striving to reach that next level.
Six clubs and only two spots.
They will all go into next season hoping that they will be the team that get's into the top four, but they will all be very aware that some will have to miss out.
A lifeline for Leicester and Spurs or a double edged sword?
Leicester and Tottenham's seasons had opposite trajectories. The Foxes started off in fine form but couldn't maintain it, whilst Spurs started poorly and gained momentum following the appointment of Jose Mourinho. They ended up three points apart, both finishing in the less coveted Europa League spots.
One of the big criticisms of the Europa League from English spectators is the impact it can have on league performances. Last season, Wolves were the biggest example of the impact a Europa League campaign can have on a team. Their season started before any other team, as they entered the Europa League in the second qualifying round on the 25th of July.
This badly effected their start to the Premier League campaign- winning just two from their first 11. Nuno Espírito Santo managed to improve this return significantly throughout the season, but in a game of fine margins, their poor start spoiled their chances of any European football at all next season. Spurs and Leicester in particular will be wary of suffering a similar fate.
However, both clubs know how difficult it will be next season to challenge for the top four, so could their best shot at qualifying for the Champions League be through the Europa League?
Spurs fans would probably do just about anything for a trophy at this point and they will be hoping Jose Mourinho's pedigree and history in the competition can deliver a much needed trophy. Securing a Champions League place with that win would be a great achievement.
Brendan Rodgers' side are more likely to soak up the experience of testing their abilities against European outfits and like Wolves last season, they will see just how deep into the competition they can go.
Respect the competition
The Europa League is not the Champions League and never will be, but it is still; a major European honour and a good way to boost a club's number of trophies whilst also securing a Champions League spot. English teams should take a leaf out of Seville's book. They may never topple Real Madrid and Barcelona in the La Liga, but they are the only Spanish team to finish the 2019/20 season with a European trophy.Published 23 Aug 2020, 12:44 IST