There was recent delight in Dundalk (and probably the rest of the country) when the League of Ireland side, Dundalk FC, were drawn in the same Europa League group as current FA Cup champions Arsenal. The COVID-19 restrictions obviously mean no fans can attend the games but there is obviously a certain value in a League of Ireland side getting to play against some of Europe’s top players. That is something which is brilliant about the Europa League competition, it provides a stage for smaller European clubs to play against larger ones without them being completely dwarfed by the opposition.
That being said, obviously one would still have to favour Arsenal to win both games but at least Dundalk may still be able to contest in these games more so than if they had to play in the Champions League against Bayern Munich for example. This is the beauty of second tier European cup competitions, they allow teams to play and contest at a level which is suited to their ability. Which is why I’ve always been slightly annoyed at a certain aspect of the Europa League competition, teams that come in third place in the Champions League Group Stage are entered into the Europa League round of 32.
I’ve always found it annoying that a team playing in a higher tiered competition could just get entered into a lower tier competition when the former doesn’t work out for them. Not many would deem it acceptable for example if halfway through last year’s Premier League season Norwich City were to be put into the Championship rather than the Premiership because they were performing poorly. The introduction of Champions League teams to the Europa League competition makes it much more difficult for the teams in the Europa League to advance to the later stages of the competition. This is evident when we look at the percentage of finalists in the Europa League from 2000-2020 who came from the Champions League.
60% of the runners up in the competition over the last 20 years have been teams that were in the Champions League that same season but failed to progress from their group stage and were then placed into the Europa League competition. In addition to this, 40% of the competitions champions over the last 20 years have also come through this Champions League route. It seems ridiculous to me that nearly half of the winners of this competition over the last two decades were not actually in the competition when it began.