In Europe, the UEFA Champions League has a tendency to hog headlines. Perhaps rightly so, it is, after all, the most prestigious tournament in club football. However, we can’t help thinking that the Europa League suffers from something of an inferiority complex when compared to its more celebrated sibling....
Well, we aren't having that.
While the Champions League tends to be annexed off by the usual suspects, the Europa League has consistently thrown up a much bigger pool of potential winners and the entrant list for this year’s competition highlights the high standards that the tournament boasts: Liverpool, Napoli, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio, Sporting, PSV, Newcastle, Inter, Spurs, Steaua Bucharest, Anzhi, Athletic, Borussia Monchengladbach, Atlético, Twente, Marseille are all on show….to name but a few.
Rebranded as the UEFA Europa League in 2009, having previously been known to all as the UEFA Cup, the competition was electric last season with Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao playing some magnificent football en route to the final. The tournament also had a higher goals per game ratio than the UEFA Champions League (2.85 against 2.76) which shouldn’t be sniffed at.
While there are those that will point to the richer and/or assumed ‘better’ clubs shunning the tournament, it’s this reason that we think the UEFA Europa League has been superior. A diverse mix of clubs has meant that there have been twelve different winners in the last fifteen years with many players and coaches making a name for themselves on the European scene. An inclination by clubs to use young players has given the former UEFA Cup a vibrancy that isn’t always present in other cup competitions and has acted as a great leveller for supposed mismatches. Monitoring players for The 100 has meant we’ve taken in a lot of Europa League fixtures over the last two years and just about every game has thrown up a new face, someone whose name we’ve rapidly jotted down in our notebooks.
The cup is no easy win either. With both of last year’s finalists travelling more than 15,000 miles and visiting eight different countries en route to the final, the Europa League can hardly be described as a stroll. An endurance event only then? If you caught any of the latter stages of the tournament last season, and enjoyed the quality of play on offer, you’ll know that isn’t the case at all. This is a winner, and we’d like to see more people in on it. The true spirit of knockout European football is alive and well and here right now.
The Europa League returns this week and with live matches available from a number of sources, including live streaming via the UEFA website, so we URGE you to give the competition the support it deserves. You know what you have to do…
This week's fixtures, all times GMT.
Anzhi Makhachkala v Young Boys 17:00
Rubin Kazan v Partizan Belgrade 17:00
Neftchi v Inter Milan 17:00
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona v Lyon 18:00
Sparta Prague v Athletic Bilbao 18:00
Lazio v Maribor 18:00
Panathinaikos v Tottenham 18:00
FC Metalist Kharkiv v Rapid Vienna 18:00
Rosenborg v Bayer Leverkusen 18:00
Hannover 96 v Levante 18:00
Helsingborgs IF v FC Twente 18:00
Basle v Genk 18:00
Videoton FC v Sporting 18:00
Liverpool v Udinese 20:05
Academica v Hapoel Tel-Aviv 20:05
Atletico Madrid v Plzen 20:05
Marseille v AEL 20:05
Borussia M'gladbach v Fenerbahce 20:05
Club Brugge v Maritimo 20:05
Newcastle v Bordeaux 20:05
Molde v VfB Stuttgart 20:05
Steaua Bucuresti v FC Copenhagen 20:05
AIK v Dnipro 20:05
PSV v Napoli 20:05