If anybody in the English game has had anything good to say about the Europa League, it’s been pretty much drowned out by the English media loudly echoing the negativity spewing forth from White Hart lane and Harry Redknapp in particular:
“It is a nuisance.”
“I’m going to play the younger players, because otherwise I think it’s going to be a killer, to be playing Thursday and then Sunday every week.”
“We’d have no chance in the Premier League really, it kills you off.”
“It’s one of those competitions that teams get in and then they try to get out of.”
Differentgame decided to analyze whether the Europa League really does kill teams off by looking at the top four leagues across Europe over the last 5 years, and seeing how the relevant teams fared domestically when in the competition compared to when not. We started with the EPL:
Four out of eleven EPL teams have fared worse in the years they’ve competed in the Europa League.
Liverpool have finished on average 2 places down domestically when they’ve had the “nuisance” to contend with. On average they’ve played 14 European games in those seasons. However, this last season with only domestic games to contend with they’ve finished even lower down in 8th place.
Birmingham played their only Europa campaign while already in the Championship – so that takes explains their much poorer finish in the graph above. They still managed to finish 4th in the longer Championship despite the extra games from the Europa League.
And what of ‘Arry’s Spurs? Well, yes they have fared worse overall domestically in their Europa League seasons. However, it’s not like they’ve played a mountain of games when they’ve competed – they average around 8.5 games in the competition. And this year they equalled their best recent EPL finish (4th) despite competing in the Europa League. They finished higher this year than they did last year in their beloved Champions League campaign. Maybe they killed off that league campaign because they played full strength sides in Europe trying to go for an unlikely glory? Or more likely, trying to get a massive payday.
The last team in this group is Manchester United. Having been KO’d from the Champions League early they dropped down into the Europa and briefly flirted with the idea of winning it before getting knocked out by Bilbao. So they played 4 games on top of the 6 they played in the Champions League. 10 games. They’ve played at least that number of games in each of their previous four Champions League campaigns.
What about La Liga?
In Spain, four out of nine teams have fared worse domestically in their Europa League seasons:
In their only year in the competition, Zaragoza played a grand total of two Europa League games and got relegated the same season.
Getafe are the kind of team you’d expect to conform to the theory that the Europa League is a killer – a relatively small club lacking the money and therefore squad to cope. And they do conform to a point finishing lower than average domestically in their Europa seasons. However, their worst finish of 17th came in a year when they had no European games to contend with.
Sevilla this season played just two games in the Europa League after getting knocked out in qualifying by Hannover. This was the lowest number of European fixtures they’d played in five years be it a Europa or Champions League season yet they finished in 9th place, bringing their average league domestic position down. Their best finish in the period (3rd) came in a Europa League season.
Athletico are another Spanish team to have had European football in each of the last five years. In each of the their Europa seasons they’ve finished lower than they did in their single Champions League year. They do well in the Europa League averaging over 13 games in the competition over the four campaigns. They’re the only team from the EPL or La Liga that really fit the stereotype.
The Bundesliga sees its teams suffer the least apparent impact overall from the Europa League but it contains possibly its worst victim:
Stuttgart have played two Europa League campaigns in the five years. The first one saw them finish in their highest domestic position in that time (3rd) and the second one in their worst (12th). Was the difference playing 12 Europa games instead of 10?
Nuremberg got relegated in their only Europa League season finishing 16th out of 18. They bounced back immediately only to finish 16th again on their return. They survived their relegation play-off to stay in the top flight and didn’t have European football to contend with. They haven’t since, either, and have stabilized in the division once more – they have been relegated from the top flight more than any other German team in history.
And so to Serie A:
Four out of eleven teams here fare worse:
Napoli finish a massive half a position lower on average (7th to 7.5th) in their Europa seasons. Again, they’re another team whose best recent finish (3rd) has come during a Europa League campaign.
Juventus finished 7th in both their Europa League seasons in the period. Way down on their usual finish. With no European football to contend with this season, the installment of Conte as manager and the acquisition of Pirlo, they regained top-dog status this year winning the title. There’s the small matter of another match-fixing allegation to clear up first, though.
Milan played 8 games in their single excursion into the competition and finished 3rd in Serie A – a quarter of a place down on their average over the five years.
Palermo are one of the teams seemingly effected , faring nearly twice as badly in the league when confronted with Europa League fixtures.
Overall then, 14 out of 53 teams have averaged worse positions in the league during Europa League seasons. Digging deeper, around 4 of those (Getafe, Athletico, Nuremburg and Palermo) have genuine claims that it’s the Europa League fixtures that have done for them. For the other 10, the numbers just aren’t significant.
The only reason the Europa League is a distraction, nuisance or a killer, is because the prize money on offer isn’t big enough for some English managers to make it a priority. For the vast majority of teams in the top leagues, any other excuse is a nonsense.
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