Thursday night, Channel Five: a case for the Europa League

As I watched a very entertaining game between Liverpool and Udinese in the Europa League last week, I realised it was fourth game of the competition I was watching already this season. For all the jesting that the competition is a ‘poor man’s Champions League’ it throws up some brilliant fixtures and gives us a chance to watch teams and players we wouldn’t normally get to see if you’re not an avid follower of the other European leagues.

Udinese played some excellent football and it is a great mystery to me why no Premier League club has expressed an interest in their brilliant talisman Antonio di Natale over the years. Let’s not forget, too, last year’s final where Atletico Madrid’s sublime Falcao was unleashed on a world stage and there is no doubt that his performance in that game and subsequent individual demolition of Chelsea in the Super Club have led to him being one of the most sought after names in world football.

Atletico Madrid weren’t the only spanish club catching the eye during last year’s competition either, their opponents in the final were Athletic Bilbao who drew praise for a number of fantastic performances throughout the competition, including a masterclass when they knocked out Manchester United. Personally, one of best games I saw last year was Bilbao’s second leg semi-final against FC Schalke which included everything a football aficinado could want; brilliant goals, drama and first-class individual performances from the likes of Fernando Llorente, Jans Klass Huntelaar and the old dinosaur Raul.

Whilst Harry Redknapp dimissed the competition last year in favour of league aspirations, it appears his successor Andre Villas Boas is keen to take the Europa League seriously and why not? Isn’t the idea of Tottenham traveling to Ireland to play Shamrock Rovers (which happened last year) fantastic and great for small teams such as Rovers?

Brendan Rodgers looks to be taking the competition seriously as well, using it to showcase Liverpool’s plethora of young talent.  

So, whilst we all laughed at Manchester United for playing in the Europa League as result of being eliminated from the Champions League so early last season, don’t laugh at the competition itself. It is an exceptional showcase of European football and evidence as to why we are so privileged to be able to watch some of the most talented and skilful footballers in the world strut their stuff. Mock it all you want but if it continues to produce pulsating games of football such as the one last Thursday with Udinese and Liverpool, it will become harder and harder to brush it aside as a ‘poor man’s Champions League’.

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