Having registered their first domestic back-to-back victories this season, Chelsea's anticipated resurgence under Guus Hiddink was reinforced by Manchester City's triumph in the Capital One Cup. Their 4th League Cup success ensures that Europa League qualification is available if a team finishes in either 5th or 6th in the Barclays Premier League, news that could be incredibly beneficial for Chelsea.
The Pensioners are undefeated in their previous eleven league fixtures, and having dismantled a youthful City side with considerable ease, they have secured their position in the quarter-final of the Emirates FA Cup. Despite their doleful beginning to the season, the Blues have maintained the hope of emulating 2012's indelible triumphs, however unlikely that would be, having recorded a reputable result in Paris in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Chelsea's period of revived hope is best epitomised by Diego Costa's reoccurrence to goal-scoring form. The Spaniard's form of late has been distinctly impressive, to a degree reminiscent of the prestigious performances he produced in the previous campaign. No other striker has scored as many goals as Diego Costa in 2016 (9 goals).
This period of vast improvement enables us to ponder what could Chelsea realistically achieve in the remaining eleven fixtures. The title is, and has been for a substantial amount of time, entirely implausible. Similarly, top four remains to be a fanciful ambition: Manchester City are situated eleven points ahead of the Champions, whilst indulging in the luxury of having a game in hand. Hiddink's men are currently positioned eight points adrift of fifth place, and seven points afoot of sixth. Consequently, qualification for the Europa League remains a practical possibility. Winning the FA Cup would also certify Europa League participation. The prospect of Champions League football remains possible, though it would be incredibly difficult to replicate the spirited heroics of 2012. In simple terms, European Football is feasible.
When discussing the Europa League, especially in England, there is seemingly considerable scepticism surrounding the topic. Most apparent is its inferior status to the Champions League, a feeling that is reflected in both attendances and general attitudes. 58,609 supporters were present as Manchester United commandingly dismantled FC Midtjylland, a stark contrast to United's impressive average of 75,335 spectators. The general perspective of the Europa League is best encapsulated by the words of the Special One...
"I don't want to win the Europa League.It would be a big disappointment for me. I don't want my players to feel the Europa League is our competition."
-Jose Mourinho, 2013
In quintessential Mourinho fashion, his comments are utterly valid. A club of Chelsea's immense magnitude should certainly be pursuing more distinguished achievements than the Europa League, especially given the extent of the club's resources. Nevertheless, in the club's worst season under Roman Abramovich's affluent ownership, Europa League qualification would represent moderate success and involvement in the Europa League could be exceedingly advantageous for the club.
The Europa League provides clubs with an ideal foundation to develop their young players, as displayed in Chelsea's successful campaign in 2012/2013, in which a 22-year-old Victor Moses thrived whilst a 23-year-old Ryan Bertrand and a 18-year-old Nathan Ake gained invaluable European experience.
The ability to nurture young talent in the competition is best reflected by Liverpool. Jordan Rossiter, Jordon Ibe, Joe Gomez, Cameron Brannagan, João Carlos and Divock Origi have all attained indispensable experience through playing in the competition.
Over the duration of several years, Chelsea's biggest criticism has been their inability to successfully integrate an academy product into the first-team set up; rather notoriously John Terry was the last to accomplish this feature. Participation in the Europa League would significantly enhance the development of our young players. There are several players who have been deemed unfortunate not to have received first-team opportunities, perhaps most notably Jake Clark-Salter and Ola Aina — the Europa League provides an opportunity that domestic competitions fail to provide.
Having entrusted his faith in the attacking capacity of Bertrand Traoré, Guus Hiddink and the Chelsea faithful alike have become aware of the 20-year-old's football mastery. Every time Traoré has featured longer than fifteen minutes for Chelsea, he has scored. This statistic is likely to be maintained if he frequently plays for the team, an opportunity that would be presented with Europa League involvement. The desire to play is a desire fulfilled by the Europa League.
The impracticality of Thursday night fixtures and lengthy European flight can represent hinderances for teams with limited squads. However, with a relatively sizeable squad of 27 players any potential problems could be swiftly neutralised by efficient squad management and shrewd organisation.
Not only does the Europa League represent an opportunity to allow youngsters to blossom, it also provides the club with another passage to Champions League qualification. Indeed I, as many others, will be expecting Chelsea to return to its previous distinction by mounting a profound title challenge next season.
Yet, the unpredictable nature of the Premier League can engender several surprises as witnessed this season, and giving the increasing financial prowess of opposing teams, and the development that the likes of Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United have achieved, securing Champions League might become a particularly strenuous challenge. This is without considering that Jurgen Klopp will have the summer to remould Liverpool into a team that is in accordance with his personal intentions. Similarly, United are widely expected to invest, whilst City and Arsenal will both look to strengthen their respective sides. The 2016/17 season has the potential to be the most competitive Premier League season in history, and thus the pursuit of Champions League football will be considerably demanding. If Chelsea are successful in their European conquest, then they will earn Champions League qualification as the winners of the Europa League.
Whilst it is widely perceived as a subordinate, the fact remains that it is a European trophy, and potentially another piece of silverware that will adorn the Chelsea's illustrious cabinet. It may not rival the grandeur of the Champions League trophy, nor may it warrant the same acclaim as a domestic title, but the Europa League remains to be an exceptionally useful trophy.