Good in Europe, But Nowhere Else
I found it interesting that after Tottenham Hotspurs defeat to POAK Solonika, many Spurs fans were more than happy to find themselves out of the Europa League so the Premier League form wouldn’t suffer from the admittedly longer than it should be knockout stages.
Part of me thinks this could be just a myth, something that seems like it could be true. So, here’s for a little experiment, the semi finalists of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 Europa League seasons, the 2007-08 and 2008-09 UEFA Cup seasons, and the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons of the UEFA Cup, which were the last to incorporate the knockout stages which seems to be a very popular option for those who want the Europa League to change back to this format.
2002-03 UEFA Cup (13 games including final)
- Porto. UEFA Cup Winners. League Winners.
- Celtic. UEFA Cup Runners-Up. League Runners-Up.
- Lazio. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 4th.
- Boavista. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 10th.
All the teams performed well in the far shorter competition, aside from Boavista, who would have had every right to be disappointed after a 2nd place finish in the Primeira League the year before. Celtic were very unlucky after losing the league by one goal on goal difference.
2003-04 UEFA Cup (13 games including final)
- Valenica. UEFA Cup Winners. League Winners.
- Marseille. UEFA Cup Runners Up. League 7th.
- Newcastle United. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 5th.
- Villarreal. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 8th.
A lot more mixed fortunes to the team. For the second year in a row, the UEFA Cup winners also went on to win their own league. In this case, Valencia, who were the last team before the Barcelona and Real Madrid dominance to win La Liga.
2007-08 UEFA Cup (15 games including final)
- Zenit St. Petersburg. UEFA Cup Winners. League Winners in 2007, League 5th in 2008.
- Rangers. UEFA Cup Runners-Up. League Runners-Up.
- Bayern Munich. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League Winners.
- Fiorentina. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 4th.
Zenit St. Petersburg is a difficult team to judge, as the Russian league was completed in a calendar year, so two results could be looked at. They won the league in 2007, but struggled a lot more in 2008 finishing down in 5th. The other league winners were Bayern Munich, while both Rangers and Fiorentina qualified for the Champions League qualifying stages.
2008-09 UEFA Cup (15 games including final)
- Shakhtar Donetsk. UEFA Cup Winners. League Runners-Up
- Werder Bremen. UEFA Cup Runners-Up. League 10th.
- Hamburg. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League 5th.
- Dynamo Kiev. UEFA Cup Semi Finalists. League Winners.
Ukrainian and German teams dominated the UEFA Cup in 2009, with two from each country reaching the semi finals. The German teams had a weak year in the league, with Werder Bremen. However Breman would still qualify for the new Europa League on the basis that they won the German Cup. The Ukrainians were more successful and it was a role reversal.
2009-10 Europa League (Fulham and Hamburg 19 games including final, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool 9 games including final with Champions League)
- Atletico Madrid. Europa League Winners. League 9th.
- Fulham. Europa League Runners-Up. League 12th.
- Hamburg. Europa League Semi Finalists. League 7th.
- Liverpool Europa League Semi-Finalists. League 7th.
The massive amount of fixtures to reach the semi-finals and final took a rather large toll on the teams, Atletico Madrid fell from 4th to 9th, Hamburg went from 5th to 7th, Fulham from 7th to 12th and Liverpool with the worst collapse, 2nd to 7th. There were various circumstances, Champions League had six games on top for Liverpool, while Fulham and Hamburg entered from the Third Qualifying Round being forced to play obscure teams from Lithuania and Denmark.
2010-11 Europa League (Porto and Villarreal 17 games including final, Braga and Benfica 9 games including final with Champions League)
- Porto. Europa League Winners. League Winners.
- Braga. Europa League Runners-Up. League 4th.
- Benfica. Europa League Semi Finalists. League 2nd.
- Villarreal. Europa League Semi Finalists. League 4th.
This is a very difficult one to judge. As three Portugese teams performed above expectations and got to at least the semi final, culminating in an all-Portugese final in Dublin, it levels out the playing field a lot more. Sporting CP were the only team to benefit from the extra matches (although they went out in the Round of 32 to Rangers) and finished third. Villarreal, unlike previous years, improved their position from 7th to 4th.
So lets look at the teams improvement based on the previous year:
UEFA Cup Knockout: 3 Improved. Stayed. 5 Worsened.
UEFA Cup 5 team group: 3 Improved. 1 Stayed. 4 Worsened.
Europa League 4 team group: 2 Improved. 0 Stayed. 6 Worsened.
If anything makes it look less conclusive, its this. No doubt the extra matches have a mainly negative effect. If you ignore the Portugese league, only Villarreal make improvements on their previous year. But the UEFA Cup knockout system also had a more negative effect, as did the group stage.
Overall the UEFA Cup and Europa League, more often than not, will have a negative effect on the teams chances in the league, it could be more useful to look after a few more Europa League seasons. But generally, second tier European competitions don’t help you out domestically.