This season’s Europa League will be its best ever
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With five of the six European group stage games now complete, we have an almost-complete picture of which teams we’ll see in the knockouts. This is the case for all three of UEFA’s club competitions, with most of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League spaces being taken.
There have been some huge names that have fallen by the wayside in the Champions League and we think this could be the Europa League’s biggest season yet. The stakes are higher than ever, and here’s why!
Champions League drop-outs
Teams that finish in the top two of their Champions League group qualify for the last-sixteen in that tournament. Those that finish bottom are knocked out, but the teams in third place drop into the Europa League.
While not all of these are confirmed, it’s looking likely that the following teams will be dropping down to the Europa League. Ajax, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Salzburg, Frankfurt, Shakhtar, Sevilla and finally, a struggling Juventus.
By anybody’s standards, those are some huge teams, especially for the Europa League!
Sevilla have won the competition a record six times, while Frankfurt won it last season. Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona will all see this as a second chance to rescue their lacklustre campaigns so far. Ajax and Salzburg have also proven to be tricky opposition in Europe in recent seasons too.
We can’t forget about Shakhtar Donetsk either, who will be wanting to give the people of war-torn Ukraine something to cheer about.
Let’s not forget about those already in the UEL!
Joining the UCL third place sides will be some great clubs across Europe. These include both Premier League leaders Arsenal and a Manchester United side that have finally kicked into gear this season. AS Roma have flattered to deceive so far in 2022-23, but the Europa Conference League champions could find consistency in the knockouts.
Teams such as Spain’s Real Sociedad & Real Betis, Germany’s Freiburg and Belgium’s Saint-Gilloise have also had excellent European seasons so far and could be dark horses to go deep into the competition.
Why the Europa League means so much
It wasn’t that long ago that the Europa League was the butt of jokes from fans of the top leagues in Europe. The competition was laughed at when it was revamped out of the ashes of the UEFA Cup, but not many are laughing at it now.
It wasn’t uncommon for the big teams in the competition to field second-string sides even in the knockouts. It was taken about as seriously as the EFL Cup in England, not very. Ever since the prize at the end of the season was improved to include Champions League qualification though, this changed.
For clubs such as Juventus and Manchester United, the Europa League represents a very real and viable route back into the Champions League. While clubs like Ajax and Shakhtar will likely make the Champions League via winning their league, it’s unlikely for many of the teams in the Europa League.
The money and prestige of being in the Champions League is huge and ironically, the Europa League not being as high-profile encourages teams in the UEL to do everything to go deep into the competition.
The days of the Europa League being a laughing stock are over, and we can’t wait to see what the knockout draw for the competition will produce.