AS we travelled to Italy this week for our final group game in the Europa League against Udinese, qualification is still in our own hands. A victory is guaranteed to see us progress into the knockout phases of the competition.
But would qualification be a distraction rather than a positive? Playing somewhere like Russia on a Thursday night and then playing a Premier League game on a Sunday is not really an ideal situation. If we could look to the future and say we would win the competition then I’d gladly accept the distraction that Europa League football brings.
People say that it’s the equivalent of playing in the Champions League on a Wednesday and then the Premiership on the Saturday. For me this is not the case due to us playing a weakened side in the Europa League.
The majority of first team players are rested and even left behind for the away games. This surely has an effect on these first team players as they are not training with the rest of the squad or the coaching staff when they are kept behind. Sunday would usually be a day off for the players if they have played on a Saturday. Instead, when playing on a Sunday, it is the Monday in which the players will spend recovering. The training schedule and the planning and preparation must be up the wall.
Football is all about building momentum and consistency and this is one reason why I believe we will always suffer domestically when competing in the Europa League. So far this season we have failed to win a Premier League game that has followed a Europa League game, losing two and drawing five. We are not the only ones who seem to suffer from a Europa League hangover, with Newcastle also winning just two of the seven Premier League games that have had following a Europa League encounter.
I would welcome UEFA’s idea to make way with the Europa League and expand the Champions League to 64 teams. This would solve UEFA’s long standing problem with trying to promote and increase interest in the Europa League. This is never going to happen because the Champions League will always take the shine off this. On the flip side, UEFA could add plenty of glamour to the Europa League. How about they trim the Champions League down from 32 teams? Ditch having teams who finish 2nd, 3rd and 4th in their domestic league qualifying for a ‘Champions’ League, after all since when does finishing in these positions make you a champion?
An increase in prize money would also make the competition more appealing. Winning the Europa league is estimated as earning you €10 million in comparison to the Champions League which earns you close to €30 million. This is something again that would be possible if the Champions League was trimmed down. This would also see better quality teams competing in the Europa League, which in turn would no doubt lead to the bigger TV providers pulling out all the stops to gain the rights to live matches.
For the Europa League to be deemed worthwhile for English clubs changes are needed and these changes will have to impact on the Champions League.
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