2019/20 Europa League Preview
Background image: Tomasz Sienicki, CC BY 4.0
And God said, "Let there be football on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. And he created the Champions League. And it was good. On Thursday, God rested.
But the Devil rebelled, saying, "Screw that!" And he created the Europa League. And while it wasn't better than the Champions League, it was still good. Throwing the remote into God's lap, the Devil spake again, declaring, "There is no rest for the wicked."
For reasons known only to the Pope and a few privileged cardinals, the preceding Scripture was edited from the original Genesis text. The floodlights still crank up on Thursday evenings, however, and the most addicted football fans needn't go cold turkey until the weekend.
Reigning champions Chelsea inhabit the Champions League this fall but might be back in the secondary tournament in the New Year if Matchday One's capitulation to Valencia at Stamford Bridge is any indication. Midfielder Ross Barkley is yet to admit he regrets accepting spot-kick advice from Paul Pogba.
Runners-up Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers keep the Premier League fires burning in the competition in the meantime. Other notable teams include five-time champions Sevilla, Porto, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting, Lazio, Roma, Stade Rennais, Eintracht Frankfurt, CSKA Moscow, Wolfsburg and both halves of the Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers.
With a preponderance of Eastern European clubs involved, travel will exact a toll on bigger clubs with other priorities. Direct qualification to the Champions League as a prize for winning the Europa League adjusts those priorities, though, causing disaffected elite sides to field stronger XIs in hopes of earning a seat at the grown-ups' table.
Here's a look at how the dozen groups shake out ahead of tonight's kickoffs.