Lacking the extravagance and the degree attention lavished on its more illustrious sister competition, the Europa League is often shunned as a competition of almost no importance to a big club. Europa on Thursdays is a fate that often “befalls” a club, unlike the honor and glory of Champions League nights. For many players however, that is not the case.
Take David Luiz, who’s already won the competition once with Chelsea and played in it with Benfica as well. Last night’s match at PAOK was deemed unimportant enough that he didn’t even have to travel (rested alongside Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić). But that isn’t taking away from any of the potential glory and difficulty.
“Many people don’t understand how hard it is to win this competition. The level is great. It’s not going to be easy to play. It’s not going to be easy to play on a Thursday. It’s not going to be easy because of how far we have to travel but also because of the quality of the teams. I know because I have played in the Europa League more than once — I also played in it with Benfica.
“It’s not what everyone says about it [not being a good standard]. It is never easy to win a competition like this.”
When Chelsea won it in 2013, it was just that, a second-rate European trophy, the consolation prize of the loser’s bracket. But since UEFA decided to reward the winner with a Champions League spot, it has taken on some additional relevance. Still, for most players, it’s the trophy itself that matters more.
“It is important to win the trophy. Some talk about how winning it is a route back into the Champions League but, for me, it’s about lifting a trophy. We will fight for all the titles. It doesn’t matter the name of the competition, we play for a big club. We will always be under pressure to win every game.
“We have an amazing squad, everyone has the quality to play. It doesn’t matter who the 11 are on the pitch, Chelsea will always be at a great level to win games.”
-David Luiz; source: London Evening Standard
Chelsea make short work of PAOK (despite the narrow 1-0 scoreline) last night and now are well set up for winning the group with the minimum of fuss and getting into the knockout rounds, which is where the real fun begins.
The Europa League may not be where we want to be, but since we are in it (and are the pre-tournament favorites), we might as well win it.