For about two seasons now, the UEFA Europa league has become an easy way for teams to find their way back to Europe’s elite club competition – the UEFA Champions League.
The duo of Sevilla and Manchester United have benefited from the UEFA policy in the past two years following their triumphs in the second tier competition in Europe in the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 seasons respectively.
Many Clubs and their managers no longer look down on the competition as they know it could land them a place in the Champions League since the winners go straight into the group stage draw.
But wait a minute, is it really easy to win the Europa League?
Manchester United being the latest team to take advantage of UEFA’s gesture do have their story to tell. The Red Devils emerged Champions of the competition by beating Ajax 2-0 in last season’s final but that came at a price.
As at the time United felt they had a chance in the Europa League, there were two other competitions also looking good for them – the League and the FA cup.
Chelsea made the decision a little bit easy for them by handing them a 1-0 defeat in the quarters of the FA cup, but they still had to choose between the league and the Europa league.
Finally, with few games left and with competition getting into the semis, they had to prioritise the Europa league and it proved to be a good gamble.
That decision affected them though and they had to settle for a sixth-placed finish but they didn’t have to overstretch their team who had injury issues already. That looks like a template for other teams this year.
Most teams like AC Milan, Arsenal and the likes who have emerged favourites are rebuilding after being overtaken by other teams in their respective leagues and winning the competition could quicken their rebuilding process.
Furthermore, as easy as winning the competition looks, it’s also a matter of risk. If in the final, the team loses, the winner takes all and runners-up lose at both ends.
The Europa league also affects the performance of teams especially English teams who always have a tight schedule. Teams could play on Thursday in Europe and play again as early as Sunday afternoon. An example is Arsenal’s trip to Chelsea this weekend.
However, with the challenges that come with it, the Europa league still looks very much like the easiest way to get Champions league football and that chance can only be brighter for a strong team that makes it a priority.