“Thursday nights on Channel 5, Thursday nights on Channel 5” a song that has rung around English grounds for years mocking those clubs who partake in Europe’s secondary competition. First of all, it’s on ITV now but more importantly why is the competition so frowned upon by English football fans? The format? The clubs involved? Or the Thursday nights at 8:05pm? There have been many gripes since the change from the UEFA Cup but how different is the Europa League and is it time for English clubs and fans alike to take a leaf out of the books of our European counterparts and embrace the competition as a potential entry to Europe’s top table.
It has been 14 years since Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool completed an historic treble by lifting the UEFA Cup in Dortmund after a 5-4 victory over Deportivo Alaves but how much has the format changed since then.
Liverpool entered the 2001 UEFA Cup in the first round and the table below shows Liverpool’s progress to the final in Dortmund.
|Opponent||First Leg||Second Leg||Aggregate Score(Liverpool Score First)|
|Rapid Bucharest||0-1 (A)||0-0 (H)||1-0|
|Sloven Liberec||1-0 (H)||3-2 (A)||4-2|
|Olympiacos||2-2 (A)||2-0 (H)||4-2|
|Roma||2-0 (A)||0-1 (H)||2-1|
|Porto||0-0 (A)||2-0 (H)||2-0|
|Barcelona||0-0 (A)||1-0 (H)||1-0|
One of the main issues with the Europa League is the qualifying matches required in order to reach the group stage, 4 rounds in total with those team unfortunate enough to be in the first round of qualifying (Sorry West Ham) having to start their season in early July (July 2nd next season) meaning that if one of these teams were to reach the final they would have to play 22 games to reach the final compared to Liverpool’s 12 to reach the final in 2001.
Luckily Liverpool won’t have to go through all 4 qualifying rounds, Arsenal’s FA Cup victory on May 30th sent Liverpool straight into the group stages of the Europa League with the first game being on the 17th of September 2015. This means that Liverpool would have to play 14 games to get to the Europa League final which is only 2 more than the run to the final in 2001.
One benefit of the new format is the addition of the group stage, with the departure of Steven Gerrard Liverpool have little to no European experience in the squad therefore a campaign involving a group stage could provide the manager (providing the rumours are true and Rodgers stays) and more importantly the players with the experience of getting out of the groups in a European competition something which the club failed miserably with during this seasons Champions League.
The Clubs Involved
Travelling to the darkest depths of Europe on a Thursday night is another common grievance with the Europa League and I do suppose a trip to Azerbaijan is a bit of a push although these teams also entered the UEFA Cup although with it being a straight knockout competition the chances of facing on these teams were reduced. On the road to Dortmund in 2001 Liverpool clocked over 9000 miles on away days travelling to Romania, Greece, Czech Republic, Portugal, Italy and Spain this does not include the 600 miles to the final. (Based on Google Maps from Liverpool to each city the teams Liverpool faced are based) Thus to disregard the competition due to the potential opponents yet call for a return of the UEFA Cup is misguided.
Thursday Nights at 8:05pm
I’ll keep this one short and sweet; I agree that the kick off time being 20 minutes later than a Champions League game is annoying for home games however the Thursday/Sunday combination isn’t something that has come with the Europa League as UEFA Cup ties were also played on a Thursday.
Having looked back at the UEFA Cup and compared it to the new format Europa league the only real difference after qualifying is 2 extra games to reach the final due to the addition of the group stage. Alberto Moreno recently spoke about his pride at winning the competition with Sevilla in the 2013/2014 season, a Sevilla team who under Unai Emery have just lifted the exact same trophy that Liverpool lifted 14 years ago despite it having a different name for the 4th time and the 2nd time in as many years and becoming the first team to secure a Champions League place for winning the competition. The prize money isn’t great which is probably what is putting the English teams off but with the prize of Champions League football and the money that comes with that it is definitely time for English clubs to start treating this competition with a little more respect. Basel awaits in 2016!