Has the Europa League become a worthy competition?
Although the two UEFA club competitions are siblings, one is treated like a distant cousin. The favourite effortlessly commands attention and huge financial backing, while the undesirable gets the scraps. Fans would much rather subscribe to the electric atmosphere provided by the Champions League than the Europa League's presumably drab Thursday nights. The tide is changing, however.
Europe’s second-tier club competition has undergone some facelifts. In 1999, domestic cup winners were given entry, bringing a halt to the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Ten years later, the competition's name changed once more: the Europa League was born.
Clubs participating in the 2017-18 Europa League will share a €400 million windfall. The winners could earn up to an estimated €40-45 million. It's a massive amount compared to what past champions received.
Besides money, the Europa League offers the chance to win a continental title. The winners then earn the right to compete in Europe's elite club competition the following season, regardless of their final domestic league position. A playoff berth would’ve once sufficed, but a Champions League group stage spot is now the reward.
Sevilla has benefitted twice in recent years. Last season, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United took advantage. As a result, five English teams competed in the Champions League's latest edition.
Big money. A European trophy. Champions League qualification. The Europa League comes with tempting sweeteners.
With over 200 matches played between 'unpopular' teams before the knockout stages commence, many deem the Europa League boring and tiresome.
As well as the absence of domestic champions, the Europa League features teams which performed below expectations in their own leagues the previous season. For that reason, it can never be as prestigious or popular as the Champions League.
Engrossing knockout rounds
The Europa League group stage isn't packed with adventure and excitement. Yet, the knockout round certainly is. The fire starts to burn in the last 32 as the Champions League's third-placed teams enter the competition to continue their silverware pursuit.
Chelsea capitalized in 2013 under Rafael Benitez. The Blues made history, becoming the first team to hold both the Champions and Europa League.
Admittedly, only a few prominent sides usually progress to the Europa League's round of 16. The unpredictability is what keeps it interesting, though.
Champions League dropouts are exposed to a nail-biting experience in Europe’s second-tier club tournament. This season, established teams such as Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Napoli and Atletico Madrid suffered demotion to the Europa League. Among the four, the Spaniards were the only side to progress beyond the quarter-finals.
Arsenal has caught the fever. The Gunners are battling for the Europa League title like their very existence depends on it. They reached the semi-final after defeating CSKA Moscow. A first-leg horror show against Atletico, however, means Arsene Wenger's men face a mammoth task at the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday night.
The Europa League knockout stage has showcased breathtaking, end-to-end contests over the past five years. This season's semi-final first legs were no exception.
UEFA deserves some credit. Tweaking the Europa League has given teams further incentive to take the competition seriously. It's helping provide an interesting spectacle.