Fans of the top English clubs dream of the biggest European nights, whether it’s watching it in the mix of the big crowds at the stadium or watching it in the comfort of your own home on the television.
However, do the club’s staff and players feel the same way? The Europa League is always a talking point, as teams have to play their matches on a Thursday evening. The long flights across Europe to play some of Europe’s lesser known teams leave only a matter of days for players to recover, train, prepare and play a domestic game at the weekend. This has become known as the ‘European hangover’.
When I think of the Europa League and the Premiership Swansea come to mind. After winning the League Cup in 2012 they secured a place in the Europa League. Swansea were a very strong team, who put their own spin on possession based football. In that season Swansea finished a very respectable 9th in the Premier League.
The following season problems started to occur. Swansea had to juggle the Europa League with their Premier League schedule. With a relatively small squad – and not a lot of power to spend – the added pressures of European football became a struggle and started to affect their league performances.
In comparison to the previous season, Swansea ended the campaign in 12th place. They had to dig themselves out of a relegation battle and finished just nine points off of the relegation zone.
I believe the problem stems from being able to rotate your squad in order to remain fresh and competitive on all fronts. Without a number of options within a squad, form either domestically or in European competition is going to be harmed.
Looking back to the 2013-14 season, Tottenham failed to qualify for the Champions League and again found themselves in the Europa League – a competition much to blame for their struggles last term. The midweek games definitely had an effect on their performance’s when they had to play aagain just a matter of days later.
Tottenham played eleven domestic games days after Europa League matches over the course of the season. They lost five and drew one – which included a 1-0 defeat to local rivals Arsenal and a 5-0 thumping by Liverpool. For Spurs this would have been bitterly disappointing and their attempts to prioritise both competitions surely played a part.
As I mentioned previously I believe the solution is squad depth. However, if you look at the teams that qualified for this seasons Europa League, such as Everton and Hull, can they afford to bring in the players necessary rotate heavily? Teams that do not have the financial backing like the ‘top four’ simply cannot afford to buy a mass of quality players like Chelsea or Manchester City can.
Teams like Tottenham have spent big in the past, but is winning the Europa League really their aim? They are a team aspiring to be playing Champions League football, do they really care for the Europa League?
I believe the clubs get caught in between two places and struggle to adapt, therefore struggling to reap the benefits of European football. Some clubs may underestimate the competition, but for any England club to win a European competition will always be a great feat and a great advert for the Premier League. However, in my opinion it is not taken as seriously as it should be by clubs sometimes.
The fact that the winner of the Europa League qualifies for the Champions League should be enough of an incentive for clubs to take it seriously.
What could UEFA do to make the Europa League more appealing? Leave a comment below.