The Premier League's top-four race has taken precedence this season.
Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur are eight points from each other with nine games left to navigate. While supporters of all six clubs would love to imagine their team making the top four, when the music stops playing 19 May, three clubs will be left without a chair.
With two commiserative Europa League places on offer, one team will miss 2015/16 European competition altogether and, if recent history is anything to go by, seventh could be the best place to finish.
For all the talk of UEFA money and the English coefficient in Europe, there are drawbacks to playing extra competitions in a season. The Champions League is the most prestigious club-cup trophy in existence, so these drawbacks are easy to disregard, but the Europa League—where fifth- and sixth-place EPL clubs are placed—not so much.
Three Premier League teams have fared well in the Premier League while having Europa League duties over the past five seasons.
Manchester City in 2010/11 finished third in England while playing Europa League football. The next season City won the Premier League, and were UEL participants after missing the Champions League round of 16. Similarly, Chelsea missed the UCL knockout stages in 2012/13 but proceeded to win the Europa League, finishing third domestically.
A trio of relative success stories, but this can be principally attributed to not playing in the UEL group stage on two occasions.
Champions League football—taking precedence—is allowed Tuesday and Wednesday fixtures, the Europa League is an austerely Thursday occurrence. This forces clubs playing the whole competition, from the group stage until the final (played this year on Wednesday), to play Thursday-Sunday schedules for an extended period.
For instance, though finishing third in the 2010/11 Premier League campaign, Man City—before and after their 12 Europa League fixtures—took just 29 of 63 available EPL points. City's FA Cup run affected their performances as well, but that particular trophy begins in January, after the UEL group stage is completed.
The likes of Chelsea and Man City can cope with these demands because the calibre of player they employ are usually of top European standard. Challenging on multiple fronts takes its toll on teams who received advantageous resting periods, exceedingly more clubs who are not afforded such luxury.
When clubs punching above their weight are given the Europa League to contend with, they normally find themselves on the verge of relegation. Newcastle United in 2011/12, Swansea City in 2012/13 and Everton in 2013/14 all had exceptional seasons, the next year for each respective club—when playing Europa League football—was fraught with dodging the relegation zone.
Newcastle in 2012/13 missed the drop by five points, Swansea in 2013/14—having to fire Michael Laudrup in the process—missed the drop by nine points and Everton, this season, are six points from relegation places despite the glaring talent the Merseyside Blues possess.
In an attempt to give their secondary competition further recognition, UEFA have declared the winners of the Europa League receive an automatic Champions League berth for the following year, starting this season.
There is an argument sacrificing a favorable schedule for this opportunity is worth the distress, but tasting Champions League for one season does not merit risking one's domestic status in the Premier League—especially with a lucrative television deal worth £5.14 billion commencing in 2015/16.
Assuming Chelsea and Manchester City are the top-two teams in this year's Premier League campaign, Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal will be left out.
These teams should maintain enough squad depth to deal with Europa League obligations, but as seen with the Reds last season and United this—having no European commitments is far better than juggling excessive travel, injuries and rest.
Combined with the physical, competitive nature of Premier League football, along with domestic cups, the Europa League is a largely unnecessary strain on resources. Adding Champions League incentives does not mask the issues with scheduling and humane concerns for footballers.
All that being said, one wonders whether the FA or Premier League enjoy having more representation abroad, regardless of the competition. With no teams left in the Champions League this year, Everton is the only EPL club remaining in Europe—while not a great reflection of English football, one team contending continentally is better than nothing.
Or is it? Probably not if Roberto Martinez & Co. are relegated.
Slight Update: Everton were eliminated from the Europa League by Dynamo Kiev (6-4 on aggregate)—meaning no English clubs remain in European competition for 2014/15.