Would Europa League damage Manchester United's Premier League aspirations?
By Nick Wright and Ben Nagle
Last Updated: 09/12/15 11:01pm
There is much debate over whether the Europa League benefits Premier League clubs, or whether it steals focus from the domestic season.
At the end of November, Tottenham had to travel back from a Europa League game in Azerbaijan ahead of a league tie with Chelsea, leaving them with 24 hours to prepare.
There is no doubt the Europa League can give teams less time between games, but does it really affect Premier League form?
As Manchester United drop from the Champions League into the Europa League, we take a look at if the competition really does deteriorate teams' form when they get home.
Over the last 10 seasons, English teams' top flight finishing positions have fallen by an average of 2.5 places when they have had to take on the extra responsibility of the Europa League.
In the interest of fairness, our study only includes teams to have played six or more Europa League games in a season; when Liverpool dropped into the Europa League from the Champions League last season and were promptly knocked out by Besiktas in the round of 32, it would be unfair to claim their league form was affected.
On the other hand, when the Reds dropped from the Champions League in 2009-10 and played eight matches on a run to the Europa League semi-final, it is fair to claim trips to Romania, France, Portugal and Spain in the second half of the season were contributing factors in a five-place decline in the league.
Twenty-six English teams have been involved in six or more Europa League ties over the last 10 seasons, with their European form sometimes helping and sometimes hindering their Premier League status.
Newcastle, on two occasions, have featured heavily in Europe and suffered in the Premier League. In 2006-07, they played 12 matches in the UEFA Cup and slipped six places in the Premier League that season, while their run in the 2012-13 season under Alan Pardew saw them drop a dramatic 11 places in the top flight.
Chelsea, though, are one team that have used Europe to their advantage. They dropped from the Champions League in 2012-13 and went on to win the Europa League.
Rafael Benitez's side had to juggle their league fixtures with trips to Romania, Russia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, but managed to take their impressive form on the continent into the Premier League, moving up three places to a finishing position of third.
True cost of the Europe League
|Season||Team||Europa Lge Games Played||Change in PL finishing position|
** Team dropped into Europa League after Champions League elimination
A more recent example is Everton last season. Roberto Martinez's side achieved their highest ever Premier League points tally of 72 as they finished fifth in the 2013/14 season, but the following year they fell six places as they contended with Europa League commitments. Their 10-game run to the Round of 16 included long-distance trips to Russia and Ukraine.
The same pattern can be seen in Fulham's 2009/10 season, Tottenham's 2007/8 campaign and Middlesbrough's efforts in 2005/06, and it is notable that Liverpool's 2013/14 title charge came when they were free of European duties.
There are some examples of teams coping rather better. Manchester City rose from fifth to third in the Premier League despite a Europa League run to the Round of 16 in 2010-11, and more recently Liverpool jumped a place from eighth to seventh despite a 12-game run to the Round of 32.
Intriguingly, however, there is evidence to suggest a shorter Europa League run can help a side's Premier League ambitions. In the 2011/12 season, Spurs rose one place to achieve only their second fourth-placed finish of the Premier League era as they went out of the Europa League at the group stage having only played eight games.
The 2008/09 campaign was another in which Spurs' Europa League campaign lasted just eight games, and the shorter European campaign helped them jump from 11th to eighth in the Premier League.
So while it is not unprecedented to marry a Europa League run with Premier League improvement, history shows the odds are stacked against you.
As Manchester United dwell on their failed Champions League campaign, they could be forgiven for wondering whether the Europa League is worth all the hassle...