Aston Villa and Everton are locked in battle for fifth place in the Premier League, just one place away from the apparent Nirvana of qualifying for the inappropriately named Champions League. The prize for this failure to qualify is that they will be entered in to the new Europa Cup. And this is what that means… concentrate now…
The Premier League club that finishes seventh will enter the tweaked Europa League at the third qualifying round. England’s other two entrants, who are expected to be Everton and Aston Villa, will start in the fourth and final qualifying round. These two-leg ties presage the group stage, in which there are 12 groups of four, all playing each other at home and away. The two top teams advance into the round of 32, where the numbers are made up by eight teams dropping down from the Champions League groups.
From there, the ties follow a straight two-leg knock-out formula. The differences to this season’s format appear minimal – certainly, there has been no streamlining of the competition – and the bottom line for England’s final qualifier is that they will have to play 19 matches in order to win the trophy.
19 bloody games!!! You’re having a giraffe! That is half of a full Premier League season. The chances of a team winning through that lot and qualifying for the Champions League at the same time, are just about nil. So any attempt to go for it will simply reinforce the hegemony of the existing four clubs at the top who will feed off the Champions League revenue stream to become even further in front of the rest of the league clubs.
The only proper and interesting way to reform the existing, equally farcical, EUFA Cup is to re-introduce a straight two-legged, knock-out competition with some seeding in the first couple of rounds if necessary. It would reduce the games, and bring back the excitement of a cup competition, removing the turgid ‘league’ games altogether.
But they won’t do it, because they want the TV money from more matches. So the Europa Cup will be destined to fail, in the same way the EUFA Cup has, and if you support a Premier League club, if you are really lucky, they’ll finish 8th in the league and you won’t have to bother.