[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n English football, qualification for the Europa League is seemingly viewed as a hindrance rather than an opportunity, despite new regulations to make the second-tier competition more rewarding.
With split priorities between domestic and Europa League participation, plenty of English sides, notably Tottenham, have struggled to excel in either competition due to playing in both simultaneously.
This season, for the first time, the winners of the competition will qualify for next term’s Champions League, with Sevilla and Dnipro set to play out the final on May 27 in Warsaw.
The progression of the Ukrainian side is an endearing story given the political issues in the eastern European nation, with Myron Markevych’s men beating the likes of Napoli, Ajax and Olympiakos on their journey.
For Sevilla, a club that has only been crowned Spanish champions once, all the way back in 1946, the Europa League represents the proudest moments in the team’s 125-year history.
The Andalusian outfit are fighting to retain the trophy having won the tournament last season, while the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán side also claimed glory in the competition in successive years in 2006 and 2007.
If the Spaniards beat the plucky Dnipro in the final, as is widely expected, it shows that a club can realistically fight for the Europa League crown as well as a top-four finish in a major European league simultaneously.
This proves the second-tier competition’s detractors wrong and should be a lesson to those that knock the tournament across Europe.
With two games left in the La Liga campaign, Unai Emery’s men are still in the running for a top-four finish, as they trail the head coach’s former club Valencia by three points.
But, one more victory in European competition will confirm qualification to the Champions League, even if they do finish fifth for the third consecutive domestic campaign.
The last time Sevilla participated in the Champions League was in 2010-11, where they were eliminated in the qualification stage by Portuguese side Braga.
With the Clasico sides automatically taking two of Spain’s four qualification places for Europe’s top tournament and competition from excellent Valencia, Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad outfits over the years, Sevilla have found finishing in the top four as a big ask – and understandably so.
However, the Europa League offers an alternative entry to the Champions League, even if the club’s domestic finish falls agonisingly short again this season.
For teams across Italy, Germany and England who face similar challenges in breaking up the established order, the Europa League is a sizeable opportunity.
When looking at Emery’s Sevilla squad that has kept fires burning both domestically and on the continent this season, a number of things stand out.
The team has a handful of star players, but continuation has been a key factor in success – rather than a big playing squad to offer the opportunity for rotation.
Some sides that enter the Europa League almost play a second string or changed side in the competition to the team that usually steps out domestically.
Sevilla’s tact has been to use a core of 15-17 players, with a couple of clever loan additions such as Gerard Deulofeu and Iago Aspas complementing the contingent.
There is no doubting that the Champions League holds much more appeal than its second-tier equivalent but Uefa should be commended for their changing of the regulations to make it more rewarding.
For next year’s participants, Sevilla’s journey, not just this season but over a number of successes, should be taken as a positive example.
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