Sunday, May 5, 2013

Europa League Should Be Known as Losers' League

The Champions League final is set and will feature two German sides for the first time as current Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich will take on two-time defending champs Borussia Dortmund. The match will be held on May 25th at Wembley Stadium. Bayern are looking to avenge last year's loss to Chelsea, which took place at their home ground, Allianz Arena.

This year, Chelsea were nowhere to be seen when the knockout stages began, having finished third in their group*. But fear not, the defending champions were still alive in the chase for another continental cup. That's because if you finish third in the CL group stage, you are rewarded with a berth in the knockout stages of the Europa League, UEFA's second-tier cup competition. The Europa League is in much the same format as the Champions League, but featuring clubs that place slightly lower in their domestic tables. In England for example, teams that finish 5th and 6th in the EPL as well as the League Cup winner are invited to the Europa League, which used to be known as the UEFA Cup.

The Europa League completes its group stage with 24 teams still alive. They are then joined by the 8 clubs who finish third in their respective Champions League groups. Naturally these CL washouts are generally better than the Europa League sides and they often go on to dominate the competition. That is exactly what happened this year as the Europa League final will see Chelsea take on Benfica of Portugal, another club who couldn't quite cut it in the Champions League.

What is the point of the Europa League if those slightly weaker teams have to face superior clubs just as the going gets tough. Chelsea have had a terrible year and should not be given a chance for redemption, especially when fellow EPL sides Tottenham** and Newcastle United were still in the running. It is simply not fair to those other clubs who are never going to contend for the Champions League (such as Rubin Kazan of Russia who were the quarterfinal victims of Chelsea) to suddenly have these giants thrust into their midst. The financial advantages already given to these teams aren't enough, now they get a second shot at a European trophy.

It boggles the mind that UEFA allows this to happen. It makes a mockery of the Europa League, ruining the purity of the competition. Interestingly, another London team was the victim of this stupid rule just three years ago. Fulham, a perennial mid-table finisher since their promotion to the EPL in 2001, went on a dream run to the Europa League final, only to be stopped by Atletico Madrid, who were Champions League dropouts. I guess what goes around comes around and now England will benefit from UEFA's Europa League largesse.

Even then, I think this is beyond stupid, and it is time to stop rewarding teams that lose in the Champions League. Instead, let's have a true second-tier competition and give other clubs and their fans a real chance at continental glory.



*Another stupid UEFA rule actually cost Chelsea their deserved 2nd-place finish. Teams that finish tied in group play usually have the tie broken by total goal differential. In this case, Chelsea had scored 6 more than they had allowed while Shakhtar Donetsk was +4. However, the stupid UEFA rule stipulates that ties be broken in head-to-head competition first, ignoring games involving the other two clubs in the group - but if those games matter in the standings, why don't they matter in the tiebreaker?! Anyway, each team won by a goal in their home match, but Chelsea allowed Shakhtar to score 2 goals at Stamford Bridge while they could only muster one on the road. Thus Shakhtar moved on (where they were dispatched by Borussia Dortmund) while Chelsea was given the easier path to a European Cup. UEFA is run by idiots.

**There is some irony here. Chelsea finished 6th in the EPL last season (good for the Europa League), and were only afforded entry into the Champions League as titleholders. This pushed Tottenham, who finished 4th and should have been in the CL, down into the Europa League as there is a maximum of four teams per federation in the Champions League. Now Tottenham are at home while Chelsea are in the Europa League final.

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