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Debate: Return of European Club Competitions

Will English clubs win both the Champions League and Europa League? Which teams and ties are you most looking forward to seeing in both competitions?

Hanu Trivedi: No, I can’t see English clubs cleaning up both the trophies. Personally I believe that Liverpool and PSG (and Real Madrid of course) are the only teams with a chance of winning the CL this season. The Europa League has also got a number of quality non-English teams like Inter, Shakhtar, Sevilla etc and I believe one of them will take it. Speaking of ties, Real vs Manchester City, Eintracht Frankfurt vs Red Bull Salzburg, Shakhtar vs Benfica, Ajax vs Getafe and PSG vs Dortmund stand out to me the most.

Richard Pike: Whilst I think Liverpool are favourites to retain the Champions League, I don’t believe that there will be an all-English final again. Chelsea are still in a period of rebuilding with young players and a young manager. I cannot see Tottenham repeating their heroics of last season. Also Man City seem to be now running out of steam, atypical of Guardiola’s fourth season at a club. 

Likewise in the Europa League, given Man Utd and Arsenal’s inconsistencies at present, maybe Wolves could be the surprise package? Inter Milan, Sevilla and Roma will all be tough to beat also. As for ties I am looking forward to seeing in both competitions, Man City vs Real Madrid, Valencia vs Atalanta, Tottenham vs RB Leipzig, Frankfurt vs RB Salzburg and Getafe vs Ajax.

Ross Kilvington: No, I don’t think English teams will clean up. Liverpool will go far but I reckon that will be it regarding the English CL representatives. For the Europa, I would say Man Utd have a decent shout, but maybe from a biased point of view I think Rangers can do well (and dare I say it, Celtic). We play well in Europe so it would be a boost for the coefficent rankings.

Andrew Flint: Liverpool are my favourites for the Champions League for the very simple reason that they are the best team on the planet. Chelsea and Spurs will almost certainly be knocked out by Bayern and RB Leipzig, while Manchester City are perennial chokers on the biggest stage. 

It’s very hard to know about Arsenal, Wolves and Manchester United in the Europa League. I think all three will progress to the next round, but that still potentially leaves Inter, Salzburg, Sevilla and Roma as tricky opponents. 

Wolves are the most interesting preposition for me given how long it has been since they were last in Europe. Their style is suited to continental football in my view and the further they go, the more tempting it will be to have a crack at winning it.

Jack Wills: No, I don’t think we will have an all-English set of finals. In the Champions League, I would tip a Liverpool vs Juventus final. There are a lot of good matchups, but I’d say Dortmund vs PSG excites me the most, no chance of a 0-0 there. With their league campaign up in smoke, I wouldn’t bet against Spurs going deep in the CL with Mourinho in charge.

As for the Europa League, it is hard to call with so many teams left. Inter should be a banker for this cup, although a lot relies on their priorities. They have the chance of toppling Juventus in Serie A after all. All five British sides left in the competition should make it through to the next round but I don’t see too many going much further.

The Europa League being on Thursday nights does tend to get pushed out of many peoples’ attention being on the same midweeks as the Champions League. Is there anything that can be done to remedy this?

Hanu: Not really. I think that the Europa League being the only major competition on a Thursday night actually gives it an edge and brings new viewers to it. It also has a nice little niche of its own and is enjoyed by a lot of fans of participating teams.

Richard: I can understand Hanu’s argument about the EL’s presence on a Thursday making it unique and exclusive. However, a third consecutive night of European football can be excessive. If it is your club, different story, yet, it can be problematic for neutrals.

Ross: To be honest, I don’t think anything can be done. The CL is the best, therefore, that is why it is on prime time of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. That is just the nature of the competition. Unless you support a club in the Europa, I doubt as many people will be likely to tune into that compared to the CL.

Andrew: It would be far worse if the competitions shared the same matchdays, so it makes sense for me to split them up. The priorities are clear, with the Champions League having two matchdays and the Europa League getting just one.

Money talks though; the more potential timeslots created, the more advertising revenue and viewers they can eke out. Whatever suits TV companies and in turn club accountants – will dictate when we see games.

Jack: I personally like the Europa League being on a Thursday night. If it was on the same night as the Champions League, then it would get swallowed up in that and then the teams would get even less attention. To my mind, the big issue with it is that the mainstream media only seem interested in the British (realistically, the English) teams in Europe. Once they are out, coverage on the Europa League is pitiful.

What is your opinion on this season’s Champions League last 16 solely comprising of teams from Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues? Excited due to this season’s knockout rounds being arguably the highest ever in terms of standard? Or concerned that teams in other smaller European leagues are struggling to compete nowadays?

Hanu: A bit of both in all honesty. It’s always exciting seeing the underdog in the Champions League knockouts but the prospect of having multiple fixtures that sound like finals in the round of 16 is great as well. I don’t think it should be concerning in the long term. We will have teams from other parts of Europe involved in the knockout again soon.

Richard: Whilst this is only the first time this has ever happened, I fear it may be a sign of things to come. As a young child in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I really enjoyed watching big clubs from outside of Europe’s big five leagues. Think Hagi’s Galatasaray, Mourinho’s Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg.

Large new TV deals are now in place in all the big five leagues. Mid-table sides in La Liga/Serie A etc now have access to larger funds and the wages that these clubs can now offer are no longer dwarfed by the highest salaries in the likes of Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. This, alongside the rise of cash rich leagues in the Middle East, is squeezing big clubs in mid-ranking European leagues out of the market.

It’s exciting that we are seeing ties in the last 16 which are good enough to be a final. However, European football should be more open and diverse in terms of nations represented. In England, some of the income from the Premier League broadcast deals filters down to the Football League by virtue of solidarity payments. Maybe a small figure like 5% of the combined income of the big five leagues could be redistributed between UEFA’s other members?

Ross: I think it’s a major concern. It just shows how much impact money is having at the top end of the game. Let’s be honest, the competition is geared for teams in the top five leagues to succeed. Can anyone see a winner coming from a team outwith those? I loved Ajax last season; they were a breath of fresh air, and should have been in the final.

Andrew: It’s a sad indictment of the elite’s distillation for me. Fans don’t want to see the same monotonous fixture list, but the advertisers do. The quality of football will of course be technically good but the stories that make football special will be forgotten within a year or two most likely. More people will remember Ajax’s inspiring run to the semi-final far more than Real Madrid or Liverpool racking up another notch on the bedpost.

Jack: It’s a shame to an extent, as the money in the big five means that they just have an edge. Sadly, it is just the way it goes. Even teams like Atalanta may be from a big five league but are still an unusual team to see at this stage. Plus it is rare to see a team from outside the big five leagues get far in the competition anyway. 

Olympiacos, Club Brugge, Copenhagen…when do they get to the semi-finals? The last four will pretty much always be an English, Spanish, Italian, German or French team, so who makes the up the last 16 feels rather inconsequential.

From 2021/22 onwards, UEFA will introduce a third club competition; the Europa Conference League. Positive or negative thoughts about this?

Hanu: I’m quite happy about it. It’ll be fun to see how UEFA present and structure the competition, and it’ll also give some more mainstream coverage to teams outside of the top five leagues, which is brilliant.

Richard: I am on the fence. In theory it looks a good idea; most of the teams in the tournament will be from the low and mid-ranking UEFA countries, which will open up the possibility of more different countries being represented in its latter rounds. 

However, my fear is an even more oversaturated fixture list. If UEFA’s second-tier competition sometimes struggles for attention, how is a third tier competition going to fare? What night will it get played on? Early kick-offs on a Thursday when many are at work prior to Europa League games later the same evening may struggle to attract viewers.

My other major concern is that I believe qualification for European competition risks being cheapened when it should be prestigious and unique. Qualifying for the Europa Conference League will mean thresholds are lowered as more teams ranked lower in domestic leagues end up qualifying. 

Ross: I really like the idea, I was slightly too young to remember the Cup Winners’ Cup, but it gives the chance for teams to challenge for a European trophy and more revenue. I am looking forward to seeing how they incorporate it within the current structure of the season however, with the other two European competitions.

Andrew: I like the intention on a basic footballing level. Like the UEFA Nations League giving smaller nations a glimmer of hope, it will hopefully throw up some lesser known clashes that might capture the imagination. It will never rival the sheer wonderful randomness of the Cup Winners’ Cup though, and I do worry that it will be shunted down the schedules and ignored even more than the Europa League.

Jack: I think adding a third European competition is just utterly pointless. The Europa League is a great competition in the latter rounds, but the group stage and qualification rounds already feel like a hassle to enough clubs. In England in particular, teams like Everton and Aston Villa would spend a season pushing for European competition only to play weakened sides time and time again and we still see that with sides today.

In addition, the big five leagues already have so many participants, what is another competition going to offer? Teams finishing in the top half of the league earn a European place now? Or is this just something to appease the non-big five league countries? I just think this is going to be more hassle than it is worth.

30 years-old sports fanatic from near Wigan, United Kingdom. Season ticket holder at Wigan Athletic in the second tier English Championship. Alongside Heart of Football, writes for Its Round and Its White. Passionate about all football, English Premier League, English Football League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and other European and World football leagues, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and International Football. Favourite Moment: Being at Wembley Stadium in May 2013 to watch Wigan defeat Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup Final.

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