Does European Football Affect a Team's Domestic Success?

The Europa League is seen as a hindrance to a lot of the middle of the table sides in the Premier League. Rather than a competition that will attract some of the better players in Europe, it’s seen as something that will simply damage a team’s chances of reaching the promised land of Champions League football.

But is it really a hindrance? Or is that just one of those old wives’ tales that refuses to die?

The Theory

The theory behind qualification to a European competition effecting a domestic season is pretty simple on the face of it. Basically, a team has to play more fixtures if they are involved in continental football, including many more midweek games than the squad is used to.

But should it really have that much of an impact? Surely professional football teams have enough players in their squad who are fit enough to play 2 matches a week without too much of a negative impact?

And why is it different for the top tier teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City? These teams are involved in a gruelling Champions League campaign almost every season, yet still manage to put in a good challenge for their domestic league. This is especially true for Barcelona, who have a relatively small squad of players to choose from but still managed to swoop for a treble trophy haul last season.

Examples

Liverpool and Tottenham are the two teams most often cited when you look at the effect of European football on a league campaign, due to the fact that you can easily compare results between when they are in Europe and when they’re not.

Liverpool

It only takes a quick Wikipedia search to unveil some solid facts to back up Liverpool fans’ claims that European football negatively impacts their league season.

However, the effect seems geared more towards the Champions League than the Europa League.

Strangely, though, this has only seemed to occur in the past couple of seasons. Back in 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08, and 2008/09 they were involved in the Champions League, regularly making it to the latter stages of the competition. But throughout this period, they managed to maintain a top 4 position in the Premier League.

In 2009/10, they were eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League, and then made it to the semi-final of the Europa League. Domestically, they finished in a disappointing 7th position.

The year after they only made it to the Round of 16 in the Europa League, and had a season off European football after finishing 8th in the Premier League.

In fact, the only time Liverpool’s domestic season seems to have suffered due to European competitions is last season. Their 2nd place finish in the Premier League occurred in a season when they weren’t involved continentally. This allowed them qualification to the Champions League the next season, where they finished 6th in the league.

This isn’t even rock solid either. They lost Luis Suarez in the summer and Daniel Sturridge suffered with injury. They were also eliminated fairly early on in both the Champions League and the subsequent Europa League, so it shouldn’t have effected the second half of their season.

Tottenham Hotspurs

Using the same method, Tottenham Hotspurs’ league finishes don’t seem to suggest a massive impact on their domestic season.

They have been involved in a European competition in 8 of their last 9 seasons, and to be fair to them their best finish of the millenium, 4th, occurred in a season where they had no continental competitions to worry about.

However, they also achieved 4th position in 2011/12, when they had Europa League football to take part in as well.

This is also not a very compelling claim to back up the impact of European football. But manager Mauricio Pocchettino disagrees, and has come out to the press and said that the Europa League is a distraction that is stopping them from qualifying for the Champions League.

Other Evidence

While Spurs and Liverpool may be blowing things out of proportion with regards to this, there is certainly an impact on the lesser teams in the league.

BBC Sport conducted an investigation into this, and found that the average change in league position when a team was involved in the Europa League was -2.3 positions.

This went even further when even lesser teams qualified through a cup competition rather than the league, with them falling 3.2 positions on average.

Newcastle United were the worst of these, falling a huge 11 positions in the 2012/13 season when they were involved in the Europa League.

One final fact is that 64% of teams saw their league position drop when they were playing in the Europa League.

Conclusion

So, after looking at all this we have a pretty comprehensive picture of what impact the Europa League has on a teams domestic success.

The more regular clubs in the competitions seem to deal with it much better, with Liverpool and Tottenham seeing little change in their domestic seasons when they were involved in the Champions League or Europa League.

But the surprise packages such as Swansea, Newcastle, Bolton, Stoke and the like saw a much more dramatic change in their league campaign when they had the Europa League tournament alongside.

One often overlooked advantage of a European campaign, though, is the potential for unearthing new stars in your squad. As teams tire at playing multiple games a week, managers must draft in the lesser seen players in their squad to keep the team fresh. This can unearth some gems in the squad, with the best example of recent years being good old Harry Kane.

He made his debut for Spurs in the Europa League, making 6 appearances in the 2011/12 season. After a few loan spells, he then pushed his way into the Premier League starting lineup for Spurs after impressing in the early stages of the Europa League and League Cup last season.

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