The draw for the Champions League round of 16 will take place in UEFA’s Nyon headquarters on Friday. It is a tournament from which Manchester United will be conspicuously absent. But lurking in the vast auditorium, suffering Gianni Infantino’s wooden delivery along with millions of TV viewers, will be United’s ceo David Gill. The Reds’ chief will take the “punishment,” as Sir Alex Ferguson called it, of watching the party to which his club is no longer invited. And then comes the sideshow: the draw for the much maligned Europa League.
A bloated successor the UEFA Cup, the Europa League consists – post-Christmas – of 32 teams, eight dropping out from the Champions League, and another 24 having qualified via the Europa League group stages. It has become a tournament that few of Europe’s largest clubs relish competing in; a second tier competition from which all the glamour, and much of the money, is missing.
Reorganised in 2004 and then again in 2009, the Europa League now consists of three qualifying rounds, a group stage and four two-legged knock-out rounds, before a one-off showpiece final. What the competition cannot generate in media income, it seemingly makes up for in longevity. Indeed, Fulham, knocked out of this year’s competition at the group stage, played 14 matches, including Thursday night’s fateful draw with Danish side Odense at Craven Cottage. To win the tournament United must play a further nine matches, with the final taking place at the National Stadium in Bucharest.
While the competition’s credibility was eroded as the Champions League expanded to include non-Champions in the 1990s, UEFA’s decision to offer a parachute to clubs failing in the senior tournament further reduced the Europa League’s perceived relevance. Moreover, the prize money on offer is significantly less than that in UEFA’s big competition. It adds up to a tournament for which there are few dedicated supporters outside UEFA.
Aside from Friday’s draw, the real intrigue for United supporters is how seriously Sir Alex will take the competition. After all, amid the disappointment of losing to Basel a fortnight ago, the temptation must surely be for United’s manager to rotate his resources in Europe. The Premier League is now Ferguson’s principal focus, although some might argue, with considerable justification, that rotation is the reason United is in this situation to begin with.
In truth, Ferguson is highly unlikely to field his strongest side until the tournament reaches its semi-final stage. Yet, the Scot, stung by Michael Platini’s defence of his baby, back-tracked on seemingly critical observations about UEFA’s second-tier competition. The Scot last week claimed, somewhat disingenuously, that “the Europa League is a good competition and a strong competition.”
“You only need to look at the teams left in it,” added the 69-year-old. “It’s a competition we want to win. We’re in it and we’ll try to win it.”
Time will tell how truthful that statement is. After all, Tottenham Hotspur have hardly taken the competition seriously this year. One wonders why United might buck that trend.
However, should the Reds survive three rounds with a side likely to contain a number of fringe players United supporters may well feel a tingle of excitement. After all, this is a competition that the club has never won. Worse still, Liverpool is a three times winner of a tournament that used to garner far more respect.
And once United is paired with that unknown Eastern European minnow in the round of 32, Gill will kick into action, raising the usual post-draw platitudes of “excitement” and “challenges”. Fans, of course, may think differently, especially when Basel is drawn in the Champions League. Then it might kick home just what United will be missing in the second half of the season.
Who could United draw?
Dropping out of the Champions League this season with United are Manchester City, Ajax, Valencia, Olympiacos, Porto, Trabzonspor and Czech side Viktoria Plzen. Perhaps only the final pair will relish the additional games and minimal income.
Meanwhile, joining the eight Champions League failures will be those already qualified from the group stage, including some familiar names: PAOK, Standard Liège, Hannover 96, PSV Eindhoven, Legia Warsaw, Sporting Lisbon, Stoke City, Athletic Bilbao, Metalist Kharkiv, Braga, Atlético Madrid, Schalke 04, Twente, Anderlecht, Lokomotiv Moscow, Lazio, Beşiktaş, Steaua Buscharest, Salzburg and Wisła Kraków.
With a final round of matches on Thursday night, four further teams could still qualify: Club Brugge or Birmingham City, Tottenham Hotspur or Rubin Kazan, AZ Alkmaar or Austria Vienna, Udinese or Celtic.
And the draw could mean a tough fixture for United or, worse still, a lengthy journey to Eastern Europe. Ferguson will certainly not relish a tie with Lazio, Atlético Madrid or Lokomotiv Moscow, for example.
However, United cannot face seeded teams, group winners or sides from the same national association in this round, ruling out City, Olympiacos, or Valencia, who are seeded former Champions League teams. Standard Liege, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Beşiktaş, Athletic Bilbao, Metalist Kharkiv, Schalke, Twente or Anderlecht are each group winners. Meanwhile, Ferguson’s side will not play Stoke or Spurs, in the unlikely event that the Londoners qualify.
27 thoughts on “Welcome to hell: the Europa League”
“After all, amid the disappointment of losing to Basel a fortnight ago, the temptation must surely be for United’s manager to rotate his resources in Europe. The Premier League is now Ferguson’s principal focus, although some might argue, with considerable justification, that rotation is the reason United is in this situation to begin with.”
Oh Ed, I can tell that there is an increasingly sharper edge to your comments — clearly a sign of how the United credibility gap is widening. It’s hard for his highness Ferg to talk up anything in a sceptical climate, like the one that you are helping to generate (and about time, I say)
Cant fuckin wait!
wouldn’t mind us playing away in bilbao
Good summary, thanks.
Viktoria Plzen are Czech, not Romanian btw.
Never mind that – I think the Europa League is a competition that deserves some respect. The teams left in it are not all East European minnows, as you put it. The likes of Atl. Madrid, At. Bilbao, Udinese, PSV, Lazio. These are all teams that we should expect to be able to beat, but they are certainly not mugs.
As I see it – we are in this competition, like it or not. So we may as well try to win it. And if – worst case scenario – we don’t happen to win the League or the Cup this year, wouldn’t we rather at least have the EL in the cabinet than nothing at all?
Shit – Thursday football
I don’t want Europa League buggering up our prospects for trophies on the domestic front this season so a difficult draw that doesn’t involve too much travel would be great.
We’ll be fed up of playing Shity this season methinks.
And we are in no position to call Europa League not a priority.
This tournament may give us entertaining games; with less of a pressure on the players.
How and when else can we meet Lazio for example, or this Hangover 96?
Stick the europa league up Platini’s backside. Shite comp whether we are in it or not. Hope we get knocked out quick and concentrate on league and cup. Fewer games we have the better. Thank you and goodnight!
Ajax v Manchester united, interesting.
Can’t remember the last time we played them. It might even feel like a CL game.
About as good as i could have hoped for. I hope they beat us. The winners of this match could face a trip to moscow in the next round. Sod that.
me too – it will be good to see them here in Amsterdam – all the dutchies here are having a hard on about it. cunts are coming into my room giving it the big un. i don’t give a fuck. the point is it makes me sound like a shithouse just because we are so arrogant enought to be in the UCL. damn fucking right. europa cup is for benders.
Bri likes this!
i can’t really understand how utd supports can say they want us to lose?
what a load of shit. you might not think the tournament is worth much…but actually saying you want us to lose!!
pretty disgusting if you ask me
on the face of it, it’s stupid i know but it’s the only way we will learn our lesson. plus gives us a chance to concentrate our really strong and deep bench on the league.
fact is – we are not going to win the europa and the league. fuck the FA cup.
out of them, i wld go for the league and a sense that the management have learned that investment is key. if we get a run in europa, then our failure in the UCL will be masked.
it’s for the greater good – OK, put it like this, I would not give a shit if we lost rather than wanting us to exit.
No one did tbf….
I think we need to win something this year — whatever it is, FA Cup, Europa Cup, Three-Legged Intercity Fucking Cup. Whatever. We are NOT going tot win the leavue without a central midfield, you have to be on LSD to believe that one; so best we take what we can.
bri likes cock up his arse too
Wah wah wah…
I’m more concerned about our chances of winning the title. Winning the domestic league comes before anything else IMO and I don’t want us surrendering it to anyone.
As I’ve said before, I don’t like the disruption caused by playing games on Thursdays. We struggled after Champions League matches FFS. What effect do you think Europa League games will have? I don’t want us playing extra games in a lesser competition where, given the propensity of our players to get injured, they will pick up knocks. We can’t afford to lose many more players to injury at the moment. I don’t want us to possibly end up playing Lokomotiv Moscow in the next round – with the obvious travel and knock effects for our preparations for league matches.
I want us to concentrate on winning the league with as few distractions as possible (although I’d be fairly happy if we won the FA Cup). We simply don’t have the depth or quality of squad to fight on all fronts anymore.
If Cleverley and our back 4 hadn’t been injured so much we wouldn’t have needed to rotate to the extent we have done. In the first 5 games or so we kept almost the same team and played great football.
this is embarassing
That’s a long shot. I can’t see us being reinstated. I’m sure the Swiss FA will do whatever they need to do to prevent Basel from being thrown out.
They deserve to be in the next round and we don’t.
It is true that United don’t deserve to be in the next round, but considering the difference in interest levels generated by matches featuring FC Basel rather than United, the advertisers will be hoping United find a way back into the competition, and where advertisers and TV money are involved, strange things can happen.
With sheesh on this can’t see swiss fa not pulling out all the stops