This rendition of the Barclay's Premier League is utterly captivating. Halfway through the campaign, we have a rough sketch of the composition, but little idea what the end product's going to look like. With the relegation and title races all morphing weekly, one place you definitely wouldn’t want to end up when the music stops—other than in the drop zone—is fifth.
The top three clubs look to be Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea; in the chasing pack are Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. Whilst a formidable second-tier, the quality of the front trio is simply a class above. This confluence of circumstance would suggest that, of the four secondary teams, one will qualify for the Champions League, two will miss Europe altogether and one team will finish fifth and grab the dreaded Europa League spot.
For the lower teams in the table, some of which haven't tasted European football in decades (or ever), the Europa League may seem like a form of heaven. For the more seasoned teams in the Premier League, they know the UEL's a season all its own. The same logical argument could be made for the Champions League; but the clout and prestige of the Europa League doesn't even hold a candle to the biggest club cup competition on the planet.
The battle of attrition waged in the UEL is a body blow to any Premier League campaign.
From the 2009-10 season to the 2011-12 season, 10 teams from England entered the tournament. Only one team finished above the fourth spot. In 2009-10 Manchester City qualified for the Europa League and finished third in the Premiership the following year. City's gargantuan horde of players certainly helped them in their effort, but for most clubs, warring on both domestic and continental fronts proves too much to handle.
The more recent past is no different, as European qualifiers Newcastle United saw themselves barely escaping relegation while scrapping in the UEL last season. Swansea City, this year, have likewise been damaged by the competition: collecting 21 points from 21 fixtures, when, after 21 games last year, they'd earned 29 points. The Europa League isn’t a great place to be in the grand scheme of a campaign.
This go-around, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton would all see finishing fifth differently.
Manchester United: An overwhelming disappointment for the defending champions. Would there be enough money in the UEL for David Moyes to revamp his squad? Nope.
Tottenham: Spending £105 million and sacking André Villas-Boas just for the Europa League would make Daniel Levy feel like he had to French kiss his sister.
Liverpool: It would be better than nothing; but could it be enough to keep Luis Suarez onside? You wouldn't think so.
Everton: Depends solely on where Liverpool finish. If the Reds are below the Toffees, it's euphoric. If Liverpool edge them—while acceptable, it would still leave a sour taste.
Missing out on European football (not named the Champions League) can be seen as a good thing. Sure, the money isn't there, but what you lose in Europe, you have the potential to gain in the Premier League and FA Cup. Liverpool have no European matches this season and are leading the pack for the coveted fourth spot. Their success can be divided between manager Brendan Rodgers, in-form Luis Suarez, and not ever having to play three matches in eight days more than thrice.
As much as the powers that be might love to make the Europa League mean something (the winners now qualify for the Champions League directly) it isn't that big of a priority, nor should it be. It's an unnecessary weight on the clubs which comprise it. For every team that wants to be in the UEL, there are four teams crying to get out of it.
This year, a major English team will undoubtedly finish fifth, and thus be put through the Europa League's grinder next season. Here’s hoping it won’t be your side—but there's a good chance it will be.