|The UEFA Cup, which goes to |
Europa League winner.
Thanks. I got that. We're talking NCAA v. NIT. True Dat.
But for today's purposes and for the sake of altruism, let's look at the two competitions on somewhat level terms. Between the two, I'll take the Europa League.
The Champions League, especially the group stages, is such a money-grab whore of a league, that it should offend every fan of football played at the highest level. Look at the talent gap between the Pot 1 teams and those fighting for third and fourth spots in each group. By the way, those third and fourth placers end up in the Europa League -- lucky them. It's where they belong to begin with.
Hapoel Tel Aviv gets a trip to Lisbon and Lyon--and gets to get smacked around for 90 minutes in each city. Bursaspor? Bursaspor? OK. Have fun at Old Trafford, Valencia, and Glasgow. Oh yeah, and the fans who decide to show up in each of those cities? Sure, you'll see Bursaspor's Starting 11, but what will you see from your home teams? Likely the B-Team. That's Champions League football at its finest.
Shall we continue? Dracula's team, CFR Cluj was the Cinderella team a couple of years ago, but in the end was an annoying speed bump for the top two teams in its group on their way to the Round of 16 and the money rounds of the Champions League. Rinse, lather, repeat this year for Bayern and Roma, just the way it was for Roma and Chelsea in the 2008-09 tournament. BTW, Cluj ended up last in its group two years ago.
I'd rail against MSK Zilina, but you get the idea.
I'll take the Europa League. This first group stage after today's draw is much more competitive. There's less of a gap between the teams and once the Champions League castoffs join for the final rounds, the level of play improves dramatically. You have a better chance for two squads from the same country vying for a spot in the late rounds. You have a better chance to pair clubs from rival nations that normally wouldn't get on the same pitch. You have a better chance, especially in later rounds, for teams to get hungry and pull out all stops to win.
You can't say that in the Champions League, where legitimately, what, six teams have a chance to win? Money talks, and bullshit walks to the Europa League. Sure Tottenham might get out of the group stage, but will it have a shot against one of the top eight? Nope. Benfica, a scoring machine last year. What if they get out? Will it have the legs to beat a Chelsea, Inter or Bayern. Likely no. How about a minnow; a Valencia, Braga or even Auxerre? Let's say they pull off an upset and get into the second round ahead of what we'd consider to be the Top 16. Now you're looking at even more of a lopsided result in the knockout stages.
The Champions League used to be great -- when it was the European Champions Cup and left solely to the domestic champions of Europe. The competition was exclusively knockout style and the competition was fierce. You crowned a true champion that played hard from round one. Today, the champions don't arrive until the final 16, or final eight sometimes.
The Europa League may strictly be NIT to the Champions League's NCAA, but for quality of competition, I'll tune in there for the time being.