UEFA’s recent introduction of the Conference League has completely revolutionised the landscape of European club football competitions, creating a tournament that allows even lesser clubs, or those teams not ranked among the top positions in their respective leagues, to take part in a real European event, with the chance to showcase themselves in a new and exciting continental tournament. The creation of the Conference League has also had a profound effect on the other two major European competitions, the Champions League and the Europa League, in which the most successful and most important clubs in Europe usually take part.
The first effect, of course, reverberated on the overall quality of the two major competitions, especially on their perception, creating an even deeper differentiation between those who take part in the different competitions. The Champions League has essentially kept its magical aura intact, crystallised in the now legendary soundtrack that accompanies the start of each match, becoming itself a part of the brand of the main European (perhaps world) club competition. The most evident effects have concerned the Europa League, the former Uefa Cup, which since the birth of the Conference League has certainly taken a silent and almost unconscious step forward, enormously increasing its importance compared to the past, also at a perceptive level.
A new centrality for the Europa League
A glance at the Europa League’s match list, even only in the group stage, will certainly impress with the quality and prestige of the teams involved: the new regulations have in fact gradually increased the level of the competition, allowing even top teams to take part in the tournament from its very first stages (sometimes, in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League, top teams can be seen). The appeal of the Europa League is further enhanced by the special formula of the intermediate step between the group stage and the round of 16, which involves clubs relegated from the Champions League (the third-ranked teams in the Champions League groups will play the second-ranked teams in the Europa League groups, and the winning teams will join the first-ranked teams in the Europa League groups for the first knockout games, the round of 16).
This year’s Europa League play-offs are truly top-notch: among the eight scheduled games, there are also stellar challenges such as those between Barcelona and Napoli, Porto and Lazio, or Borussia Dortmund and Glasgow Rangers. A distracted observer, noticing the schedule of the upcoming Europa League matches, could easily mistake them for a Champions League knockout phase. The establishment of the Conference League has significantly reduced the distance between the Champions League and the Europa League, while at the same time widening the gap between the two major competitions and the third one, in which lesser teams participate (with very few exceptions).
The fascination of the Europa League also runs through social media: the competition’s official account in the past few days has delighted all followers with an extremely interesting poll, asking all users to indicate the strongest line-up between two of the past winners. People could choose between the 2003 Porto side coached by Jose Mourinho, who only beat a great Celtic side thanks to a goal scored by chance in the final minutes of the game, or the 2000 Galatasaray side, who won the UEFA Cup thanks to a resounding success against Arsenal, who were beaten 4-1 on penalties.
That legendary team included players such as Hakan Sukur and Gheorghe Hagi, whose memories are still fresh in the minds of every spectator. In the year in which the competition has a real chance to acquire a new depth, an unexpected centrality, the official account of the event has therefore decided to remind all followers that the old Uefa Cup, in the past, could already count on the participation of high-level teams, with first-class players (just think of Porto, which after winning the cup in 2003 also won the Champions League the following season, always under the orders of the very successful José Mourinho). The message, entrusted to social communication, is extremely clear: the competition has always had charm, even when it was considered a cup of minor importance, and this year this allure will be underlined even more by the start of a new UEFA competition, but also by the level of the participating teams, reinforced also by the last January signings (as explained in an interesting Emlii article).
In the group stage, we have seen high-level performances from Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen and West Ham, who finished first in their group with high-quality performances. Among the favourites, besides the teams relegated from the Champions League, there are also all those teams that have been able to stand up to much stronger teams, such as Spartak Moscow, who finished first in the group in which Napoli was also placed, or the French team Monaco, who came out with their heads held high from a tough group in which they fought until the end with Real Sociedad and PSV Eindhoven. The Turks Galatasaray and Serbs Red Star will also try to win the tournament, whose spectacularity will undoubtedly increase from one stage to the next.
The new Europa League fixtures, scheduled for February 17th, are a great opportunity to explore Sbo.net, one of the best online sport betting hubs, a cutting-edge platform where players will not only find a vast assortment of useful and safe betting sites to place their bets on but also useful guides from the experts in the field, allowing them to indulge in the game with complete peace of mind.
One game to look out for is Sevilla v Dinamo Zagreb: the Spaniards hold the record for the most wins in the competition – five in all – and the fact that they have been drawn with a team who are pretty easy to beat could be a great incentive for them to start on a winning path to their sixth trophy. The same fate could await teams such as Leipzig, Atalanta, and Zenit St. Petersburg, who will provide extremely exciting challenges throughout 2022, right up to the final stages of the tournament.