17 days ago
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In 2013, UEFA made the move to award the winner of the Europa League a place in the following seasons Champions League with the rule coming into effect from the 2014/15season.
It was a bid to raise the interest, competition and revenue in a tournament that was in danger of collapsing, and the move has undoubtedly worked wonders.
The prize of qualifying for the Champions League through the Europa League is a life line clubs such as Manchester United has taken advantage of when prior to 2015, the competition was seen as nothing more than a mere nuisance.
2013 Europa League winners Chelsea are one side who are viewing the Europa League as a viable root to the Champions League for next season.
That was evident in the Blues thumping of Dynamo Kiev in the sides last sixteen first leg which was correctly predicted by betting tipsters with the second leg in the Ukraine surely a formality.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri is currently embroiled in a bitter fight with Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United for two of the four Champions League places awarded to the Premier League.
As it stands, Chelsea are in the most vulnerable position in sixth but that does not tell the whole story because the Blues boast a game in hand on all their top four rivals sitting just four-points behind Tottenham in third.
The 2012 Champions League winners form of late has been good winning three and drawing one of their last four games in all competitions including that 3-0 home win over Kiev.
Progression to the quarter-finals is now all but assured for Sarri and his charges and keeping one foot in the tournament is certainly plan B for the Londoners but still an important one.
The same could be said of Arsenal, the other English side currently in the Europa League and embroiled in the Premier League top four battle.
They say possession is 9/10th of the law and it is the Gunners who occupy the all-important fourth spot in the Premier League but there are two major issues.
The first one is out of their hands.
If Chelsea win their game in hand over Brighton and Hove Albion, they will leapfrog Arsenal in the league and face an uphill task to even qualify for the last eight of the Europa League.
For the second straight Europa League home tie, the Gunners will need to overturn a first leg deficit in order to progress.
After losing to BATE Borisov 1-0 in Belarus, Unai Emery’s men showed their superior class with a 3-0 home win to be drawn against French outfit Rennes in the last sixteen.
Few expected what happened next.
The mid table Ligue 1 side swept to a 3-1 home victory in the first leg and looked good value for the win.
It means the Gunners need at least a 2-0 home win in order to progress and that is no sure thing.
If Arsenal fail to overcome Rennes, then the pressure is one to finish in the Premier League top four which may be considered a tougher task than overcoming Rennes.
Expect Arsenal to take the second leg with the utmost of importance which is exactly why UEFA made the Champions League ruling in 2013 as now, Thursday night football actually means something.
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