(Or – Allow Other People To Take Your Punishments If It Is In Your Power To Do So, Because You May Benefit From Their Struggles In The Long Run)
It is not exactly unheard of that teams don’t particularly want to qualify for the Europa League. I’ve heard Liverpool fans criticise the amount of games they would play, and admit their squad probably couldn’t cope with a battle on two fronts. The same with Manchester United fans, who would rather have the non-travelling season next year, even if it means one less chance of silverware.
That’s all well and good in England, because a top four spot guarantees a crack at the Champions League and, by the virtue of the fact that 1/5 of the top flight often does pretty well in that competition, a spluttering Europa League campaign is nothing to concern anybody.
That isn’t the case in Italy, however. If teams like Torino and Atalanta are, as has been suggested, undesirous of European football, their interest may just be tweaking the long term odds in their favour.
If Inter or AC Milan, neither of whom has enjoyed a particularly vintage season, has to shoot around Europe playing Europa League games next season, their league form will more than likely suffer. Neither has a squad the size of Juventus or Napoli, so its reasonable to think that those teams striking up from the mid-table will be able to do so again.
There is also the point worth considering that neither the Orobici nor Granata would be able to plump up a squad enough to be competitive on two fronts, so Europa League campaign could well prove disastrous for either one. So far, so sensible.
There’s more, though. There will be pressure on those teams who make the Europa League to perform pretty well in it. Juventus have reached the semi-finals this season, and knocked Fiorentina out en route. Meanwhile Lazio got through the group stages, Napoli were eliminated by Porto and only Udinese really made a ham fist of things.
This is important.
Italy’s UEFA coefficient is not what once it was. Currently 4th at 66.772, it is not so long since that it dropped to 5th below Portugal – if only marginally. That is important indeed. Benfica sit streets ahead of any Italian team (25) in the coefficients, and look untouchable for now, though Porto appear assailable. Both Portuguese sides contribute to their countries coefficients and both sides take the Europa League seriously – indeed, not so long since, Porto played Braga in the final of the competition. Portugal might not send a lot of teams to Europe, but they tend to make the best of it when they do.
So, yes, the gap up to a fourth Champions League spot is 15 coefficient points to Germany; that won’t change any time soon, but losing any ground is potentially dangerous.
In other words. If Torino and Atalanta qualify for the Europa League and flop, Italy’s coefficient would take a hit. In turn, that could, down the line, make qualifying for the Europa League more difficult for any Italian side because they could end up with another qualifying round, etc.
In short, given that neither Toro nor the Dea are likely to get anywhere near winning the competition, nor would they particularly try, they’re probably best out of it. Let the Milan sides in, and they can protect their own coefficient. They’ll be the ones using it.