The Start of the UEFA Europa League
In 1971 the UEFA Cup was born out of the ashes of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The competition was designed to be the second-tier league-related tournament for European Clubs behind the European Cup (now the Champions League). Depending on the UEFA league coefficient, typically clubs finishing runners-up or in some cases third or fourth in the league qualified to compete.
From 1971 to the early 2000's the UEFA Cup was well supported and the competition thrived. Tottenham won the first UEFA Cup followed by more English success, this time for Liverpool. Feyenoord, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Liverpool again and Juventus would win the first five trophies. The Cup Winners Cup was merged with the UEFA Cup and interest in the competition began to wane, so in 2009 the Europa League was introduced.
The Europa League took part of the Intertoto Cup, most of the UEFA Cup and blended it into a slightly different model. With expanded group stages before the knockout stages this is a European football tournament the big guns from the Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga in Spain and the Italian league Serie A are all keen to win.
Early Europa League Seasons
In the 2009/10 season the Europa League had its kick-off. Atletico Madrid were the competition's first winners beating the Roy Hodgson-coached Fulham in the final. Despite Atletico winning the trophy Fulham were the success story. Often looked upon as one of London's lesser lights Fulham reached the final after beating Hamburg in the semi-final and Wolfsburg in the quarter-final. Unlike many other clubs in the latter stages they were involved in the competition from the third qualifying round.
In an all Portugal final FC Porto beat Braga the following season. Braga had progressed after beating Benfica in the semi-final in a glorious year for Portuguese football. Then followed wins for Atletico Madrid again, Chelsea and Seville.
Top UEFA Europa League Teams
Sevilla FC: Sevilla's 2014 success sparked a golden period the Europa League. The Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan became the gatekeeper of the Europa League in the following seasons. They won the trophy again in 2015, 2016 and 2020, making them four time winners (they have also won the UEFA Cup twice). In the 38 years of the UEFA Cup before the Europa League no side win the trophy more than three times (Juventus 3, Inter Milan 3).
Atletico Madrid are three times Europa League winners (2010, 2012, 2018). All these successes were masterminded by Diego Simeone. His pragmatic style of football has developed over the years, adding extra portions of flair each season. They are now establishing themselves as a Champions League team.
Chelsea: The only other multiple winners with two trophies. Chelsea beat Benfica in the 2013 final and London rivals Arsenal in the 2019 final.
One-time winners of the Europa League include Liverpool, Feyenoord, FC Porto, Manchester United and Villarreal.
The 2020/21 Europa League Season
Villarreal defeated Manchester United in the final of the 2020/21 Europa League Season. With their player Gerard Moreno the best player in the tournament and one of the top scorers they came through tough matches to win the Europa League Final. With the competition affected by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout, a crowd of just under 10,000 managed to get to Gdansk to watch the spectacle of a penalty shoot-out that ended up determining the winners.
Villarreal had come through tight games against Arsenal in the semi-final and Dinamo Zagreb in the quarter-final to set up the final. Manchester United on the other hand had swept through their semi-final, beating AS Roma at home and in the Stadio Olimpico in their semi-final. Their major challenge had been in the round of 16 getting past a tight game with AC Milan.
The moment that will be remembered from the 2020/21 tournament will be United keeper David de Gea missing his penalty to hand victory to Villarreal.
The 2021/22 UEFA Europa League
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Big names have already exited this season's competition including Eintracht Frankfurt, West Ham United and Bayer Leverkusen. After the early knockout rounds and group stages there are 16 clubs left in the competition
- Sevilla v Dinamo Zagreb
- Atalanta v Olympiacos
- RB Leipzig v Real Sociedad
- FC Barcelona v Napoli
- Zenit Saint Petersburg v Real Betis
- Borussia Dortmund v (Glasgow) Rangers
- Sheriff Tiraspol v Braga
- Porto v Lazio
The first and second leg matches are being played in February 2022.
The round of 16 draw throws up some interesting questions. Can Dortmund turn the Signal Iduna Park into a cauldron because in the return leg in Scotland at the Ibrox Stadium the atmosphere will be massive and sure to give the Rangers players a lift. Rangers are the only Glasgow team left in the competition after Celtic finished third in their division and move to the Conference League.
The first leg match at the Camp Nou between FC Barcelona and Napoli is a clash between two European heavyweights. Napoli, in great form in Italy will be looking for at least an away goal.
Atalanta will be looking to bring some joy to Bergamo, a city that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and Leipzig who have never won European silverware face a resurgent Sociedad with the first leg in the Red Bull Arena.
The competition is shaping up to be a cracker and in this World Cup year we will be getting a glimpse of some of the star players who will also grace this tournament.
The Europa League Final is being held on Saturday, 18 May 2022, at Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
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