With no English teams remaining in the Champions League, Tuesdays and Wednesdays have lost attraction and now the fans’ eyes have to turn to Thursdays’ action, where Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle walk firmly in hopes of lifting the Europa League. The trophy would be a great success for the team and the country should any of the three manage to win it, but can it be considered a failure for English football if none of them do it?
Having a look at the rivals suggests that an English team should win it. Rubin Kazan and Basel were not – at least on paper – clubs to fear even in a secondary level. However, while Chelsea seem to have solved their tie with a 3-1 in the first leg, Spurs have complicated theirs with a home 2-2 draw that will make it hard for them to book a spot among the last-four. Should Villas-Boas men manage to revert the situation on Thursday, there will be a good chance the Amsterdam Arena will be crowded with English fans on the 15th May, providing the semi-finals draw brings them luck enough in order to avoid each other,.
Newcastle have a hardest task to overcome to get through to the semi-finals. Alan Pardew’s have to overcome a 3-1 against Benfica, a clear contestant to the title. The Portuguese club joined the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and Celtic, and counts with victories their five games in the ties against Bourdeaux, Leverkusen and Newcastle since then. Their league form is simply stunning with no defeats conceded in 24 games and the title practically secured.
The last tie matches Lazio and Fenerbahce, two two good teams but a step below Chelsea and Spurs. Therefore, the three English teams have a really good chance in this Europa league, although they should be seeing that as an opportunity and not as a burden.
The Europa League might seem a bland competition at the beginning, with early stages that seem to last forever and involve long trips that bring anything but prestige and revenue to the clubs. But when it gets to this point of the season, it becomes more interesting, and nobody doubts lifting the cup is a great success, regardless the status of the club.
In those terms, winning the Europa League would partially recover some honour for English football. But the Champions league fiasco – no English teams among the last eight for the first time since 1996 is a low blow – should be a wake-up call and explanations for why this has happened should be looked for, rather than looking for the solace that winning the secondary tournament can bring in the short-term.
Some explanations to the poor performance of the Premier League teams in the Champions League can be found in the competitiveness of the league. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern or Juventus can afford to rest players during league games, as there are very few teams that can put them in trouble. The Premier League offer far less rest, as one Sunday Chelsea have to go to Anfield, and the next one it is time to host United, or Spurs, for example.
That only shows the good health of a very competitive league, and not many solutions can be provided. However, having a look at the season calendar could do. The congestion that having to cups – FA and Capital One – brings to the teams make really difficult for the top clubs to be competitive in every front. Adding up replay games instead of a simple extra time or penalty shoot-out is everything but helpful.
Having three semi-finalists in the Europa League would be good for English football, not to mention seeing one of them winning it in Amsterdam in May, but Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle should be just defending their pride and not feeling the pressure of having to save English football’s face. That may be a task for the FA, who by now should be looking for ways to modify the calendar and protect the top clubs and make them more competitive in the European panorama.