The Europa League is a competition that has existed for over 50 years. Initially, it started as the UEFA Cup in 1971 and was set up as a secondary tournament for teams that didn’t win their domestic title but finished in the top positions. The rebrand took place in 2009, and there have been many significant moments in just over a decade. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at some of those moments.
The clubs that begin the Europa League don’t always end up favorites. This is because teams – many of which are high-quality teams with a lot to offer – that are knocked out of the UEFA Champions League group stages go into the Europa League. For this reason, Europa League odds can fluctuate, depending on the teams that get knocked out of the Champions League.
It is with enormous pride that the winning club will claim this trophy, and some of the greatest teams and players have managed to get their hands on it over the years. Sevilla have won the trophy six times, with their last win coming in 2019. Trailing behind Sevilla are Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan and Liverpool, all in joint second place, with three victories each.
Fulham’s 2009/2010 campaign
West London-based club Fulham isn’t considered one of the giants of English football. I say that with no disrespect intended, of course, and I’m sure their fans would agree. However, they punch well above their weight and have shown this multiple times – none more so than in their incredibly spirited campaign during the rebrand of the Europa League season in 2009/10.
Highlights of this season include them thrashing Italian giants Juventus 4-1 at Craven Cottage. They also dispatched German duo Wolfsburg and Hamburg in consecutive knockout games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for The Cottagers, and they were beaten in the tournament final by Spanish giants Atlético Madrid in a close game that finished 2-1.
The 2001 UEFA Cup Final
As far as European finals go, the 2001 UEFA Cup Final is considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. Before the rebrand of the Europa League, but still the same tournament, Liverpool beat Spanish side Alavés 5-4 after extra time. This was one of three trophies that Liverpool managed to win in that season. The game had absolutely everything – goals galore, drama and a golden goal to finish proceedings. It is one of only a handful of times a European final has ended with the golden goal, and it was an Alavés player who scored it, just into the wrong net.
Lyon vs AZ Alkmaar 2016/17 season
In the round of 32, Lyon thrashed the Dutch side in the highest scoring two-leg tie the competition has seen. Lyon ran out rampant winners in the first game, beating Alkmaar 4-1 away from home. This almost guaranteed their spot in the next round. However, Lyon were not content with a routine win and put their foot on the gas for the second leg too. They managed to put seven past Alkmaar in the second leg, coming out as an astonishing 11-2 winner on aggregate. This remains the largest win over two legs in the Europa League, and it’s unlikely to be beaten for quite some time.
Zenit’s road to glory in 2008
A golden generation of Russian footballers took Zenit Saint Petersburg to glory in 2008. They were favorites to lift the trophy after impressive performances in the group stages, most notably from Andrei Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Vyacheslav Malafeev. Many of their players went on to play for big teams in England following their resounding success in this competition, with Arshavin becoming a key figure in the Arsenal team of that generation. Pogrebnyak joined Arsenal’s London rivals Fulham. It is a period that many Zenit fans still look back on fondly. A comfortable 2-0 win in Manchester over Rangers cemented this team in Zenit’s history books.
There are several different matches or events we could have placed in this best moments list. The Europa League has its detractors, but it is a premier cup competition that many of the biggest teams in Europe would love to have in their trophy cabinet. Granted, it’s not as esteemed as the coveted UEFA Champions League. Still, it provides silverware for the clubs that may not have the financial might of a PSG or Manchester City but have a good manager and a strong set of players that deserve European glory.