This season’s European competitions are already well underway. The spotlight is undoubtedly on England’s quartet of Champions League hopefuls, but in UEFA’s second-tier competition, the Europa League, Manchester United, Arsenal and Wolves are also flying the English flag.
Such is the power of the Premier League in modern times that all three English teams are being backed as amongst the top five favourites to lift the trophy.
A strong start
England’s romance with the Europa League, or the UEFA Cup as it was formerly known, has a long and well-established history dating back to the competition’s very inception.
In the first twelve years of the UEFA Cup, English teams lifted the trophy no fewer than five times, more than any other, ushering in the country’s most successful period to date in the competition.
Tottenham fought off Wolves in an all English final in the inaugural 1971-72 UEFA Cup, while Liverpool lifted the trophy in both 1973 and 1976, an important forerunner to their successful European Cup campaigns.
Bobby Robson took his long tenure at Ipswich Town to its greatest victory to date with England’s first UEFA Cup triumph of the 1980s. It was the culmination of years of hard work at the East Anglian club and would eventually set him on a pathway to become the leader of the English national team.
The two-legged final of 1980-81 had a surprisingly Dutch flair to it. Ipswich went on to face AZ Alkmaar, first at Portman Road, then at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam. Ipswich’s victory was in part helped their Dutch duo Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen. Thijssen scored two goals over both legs and Mühren provided an important attacking outlet throughout.
AZ have made a return to the now rebranded Europa League, again meeting English opposition in Manchester United. Unsurprisingly it’s not Alkmaar who are being backed by the bookies as the Eredivisie’s best chance at lifting the UEFA Cup.
Heavyweights PSV and Feyenoord are higher in the bookies’ estimations. For Dutch players looking to bet on one of their own to bring the Europa League back home, visit a betting expert who can deliver the best betting sites in the Netherlands.
Spurs lifted the trophy for the second time in 1984 after beating Anderlecht on penalties in front of a raucous crowd at White Hart Lane. After a tough two-legged face-off, it would be the last time an English side would lift the trophy for 17 years.
Breaking the deadlock
Fast forward to 2001 and it would be Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool who would bring the trophy back to England after a nine-goal thriller against Spanish side Alavés at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund.
It would take another 12 years before an English side would lift the trophy, now going by its present moniker, the Europa League. It was to be Rafael Benitez to guide Chelsea to victory against Benfica, a last-minute winner from Branislav Ivanovic sealing victory.
Chelsea went on to add another notch on their Europa League bedpost last season, while Manchester United claimed their first Europa League victory two years before in 2017, completing their trophy haul in the process.
It has ushered in a period of success for English teams in Europe’s secondary competition not seen since the early days. It doesn’t look set to slow down either.
Arsenal came agonisingly close to their first European silverware in their history, only to come up short against Chelsea at the last gasp on a humid night in Baku.
The Gunners go into their third successive season in the competition as one of the firm favourites to win it, albeit behind Premier League rivals Manchester United.
While both sets of fans see their respective clubs as more worthy of the Champions League, the promise of a berth in next season’s premier European competition through winning the Europa League is an added incentive to take it seriously and to attempt to go all the way.
The strength of Premier League sides in comparison to their European counterparts means that they go into the competition with a strong advantage.
It is a welcome return for Wolves who make up the Premier League’s third representative in this season’s competition, their first appearance in Europe since 1980. The face a tough group amongst Besiktas, Portuguese Braga who they’ve already come a cropper and Slovan Bratislava.
Don’t be surprised to see one of England’s hopefuls in the final come next May.