The inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League is taking place this season and, with qualifying having already commenced, we have taken a look at the ins and outs of Europe’s newest club competition.
Fans of the Premier League, La Liga and the like may be wondering why a new competition has been added to the already crowded schedule, but the Europa Conference League has been brought in to primarily serve clubs from lower down the European pecking order.
While it may lack the glitz and glamour of both the Champions and Europa Leagues, there certainly appears to be a place for the new tournament, while it will also mark the return of a third European club competition to the schedule for the first time since the Cup Winners’ Cup was axed in 1999.
How Does the Competition Work?
The Europa Conference League will adopt a similar pattern to its more established older siblings, with three rounds of qualifying being followed by a play-off round to reach the 32-team group stage – with clubs dropping into the competition at various stages of qualifying after being eliminated from either the Champions or Europa League.
From there the top team in each group will automatically advance through to the last-16, while the eight runners-up will face a two-legged tie against one of the eight teams that finish third in their Europa League group, with the winners of each tie going through.
Once the final 16 teams have been confirmed, the knockout stages will follow the usual format of two-legged ties until the one-off final – with the winner of the competition earning an automatic spot in the following season’s Europa League, unless they have already qualified for the Champions League via their domestic performance.
Europa Conference League matches will be played on a Thursday, with the inaugural final of the competition set to be held at the Arena Kombetare in Albania on May 25th next year.
Which Teams Will Contest the Inaugural Competition?
No team automatically qualifies for the Europa Conference League group stage, while the ‘big five’ leagues will have one representative each to begin with, except for La Liga, who will not have a team in this year’s competition due to Villarreal’s Europa League success last term.
Tottenham will be England’s representatives this year after they finished seventh in last season’s Premier League and they will enter the competition at the play-off round.
Spurs will be joined at that stage of the tournament by Serie A outfit Roma, who are of course managed by Jose Mourinho, Union Berlin of the Bundesliga and Rennes from Ligue 1.
However, as we know, the Europa Conference League is not just about the teams from the ‘big five’ leagues, with The New Saints of Wales, Slovakia’s Spartak Trnava and Ararat Yerevan from Armenia being among the clubs who have already advanced through to the second qualifying round.
The inaugural season will also see teams with plenty of European pedigree compete, with the likes of Aberdeen, Anderlecht and Feyenoord having all lifted major trophies on the continent in the past.
The Europa Conference League certainly looks set to be an intriguing and welcome edition (for most) to the European football calendar, but we will have to wait and see just how much of a success it proves to be.