EnglandThe Europa League gets a huge amount of stick in England. This is driven by embittered managers who wanted to qualify for the Champions League, equally embittered journalists who would rather have the Thursday evening off and Sky Sports who rarely miss an opportunity to undermine a competition that clashes with Darts and Snooker.
This season, however, the prospect of Thursday nights on Channel 5 was not universally unappealing to English clubs. Fulham, Stoke City and Birmingham City seemed to genuinely enjoy their European nights and only Tottenham Hotspur failed to turn up. This season sees Newcastle United return to European action for the first time in many years. The Toon Army have enjoyed a magnificent season and are perhaps finally realistic enough to understand that opportunities like playing in Europe are not to be taken for granted. Joining them are Liverpool as League Cup final winners. The Reds will almost certainly prioritise the league, next season so may see the Europa League as a distraction. However, a club whose identity is so bound up with European football are unlikely to treat the competition as an afterthought.
Unless they win the Champions League Final, Chelsea will be the third team to enter the Europa League as FA Cup Winners. If the Blues win then Tottenham will be the reluctant inheritors of the third Europa League spot. It would be funny if they won wouldn't it?
GermanyBundesliga clubs value the Europa League and the lovely coefficient points that come with them. However, the Germans have not been as successful as their status of a senior European nation suggests in recent years. In fact, surprise qualifiers, Mainz, dropped out before the group stages, this season to the Romanians Gaz Metan Medias. The other unlikely qualifier was Hannover 96 who are more used to relegation scraps but are reinvigorated under coach Mirko Slomka. They reached the quarter finals of the competition and have qualified for the Europa League once again after finishing seventh and inheriting the qualification spot for the German Cup winners which is not required as the final was between two Champions League qualifiers, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Joining Hannover are Stuttgart who recovered from a horrible first half of the season to finish sixth. Stuttgart managed a rare feat this season by going though an entire season without firing their coach. They will have high expectations domestically but will see Europa league participation as well within their resources. Above them are Bayer Leverkusen who will be hugely disappointed to finish fifth and miss out on the Champions League. The Werkself have disappointed at this level of competition in recent years but should take heart from their moderately impressive Champions League exploits, this season (Barcelona notwithstanding).
Next time: Italy, Spain, France and Portugal.
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