UEFA Europa League Explained
The Europa League is UEFA’s second-tier European club competition. It’s a tournament involving 48 European football clubs from Europe who play against each other in a bid to establish themselves winners of the tournament and to earn an automatic slot in the coming season’s UEFA Champions League. Since the tournament’s inception in 1971, it has consolidated itself as an alternative tournament for the European teams that are not able to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The competition was previously referred to as the UEFA Cup but changed its name in 2009. It may not have the biggest names in world football, but it is still a very competitive and entertaining competition. Here’s everything you need to know about the UEFA Europa League.
The tournament was first staged in 1971 and has been held annually ever since. Before 2009, it was entirely a knockout competition of 64 teams. The fixtures were played over two legs, both home and away, until all those teams dwindle to just two who play it out over the final. The final used to be played over two legs until the 1997/98 season when UEFA decided that there should only be one match. Seven years later, UEFA adopted a group stage where teams were drawn into eight groups of five teams. The top three teams from each group proceeded to the knockout round together with the eight third-placed teams from the Champions League groups. A series of two-legged knockout rounds are then played before the final, usually held on the Wednesday before the Champions League final. After the 2008/09 season, UEFA re-branded the competition to the UEFA Europa League. Sevilla has won the competition a record five times, two more than the nearest team which is Atletico Madrid.
Teams drawn together in the group stage compete against each other across two legs, both home and away. The two teams with the highest number of points get to proceed to the next round. If the teams all have the same points, UEFA will look at the teams with superior goal difference, the highest number of goals scored, and the most goals scored away from home in the group matches. The group winners and runners-up from the 12 groups advance to the first knockout round which is the ‘Round of 32’. The eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group stages join the 24 teams that have qualified from the Europa League group stages to form 32 teams.
A draw for the next round is done to establish the teams that will face each other. The clubs are divided into two pots of 16 teams, with one pot having the eight teams from the Champions League. Clubs from the same domestic league or Europa League group cannot face each other in the first round of knockouts. However, the following rounds do not have the qualified teams split in separate pots meaning that any of the clubs left in the competition can face each other regardless of where they finished the group or from the same league. This protocol is observed until the end of the tournament in the final.