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The Format Of The Europa League: How Does The Tournament Work?

December 11, 2015

- Grant Whittington

In many ways, the Europa League is the most underrated tournament in the whole of world football. Considered to be the ugly sister of the European Champions League (a perception that is hardly helped by the fact teams who finish third in the ECL group stages automatically parachute into the Europa League) and treated as a burden by so many teams and managers, the Europa League faces a constant battle to justify is status as a leading continental tournament.

What is the Format of the Europa League?

One of the main reasons why the Europa League is considered to be a burden is the number of fixtures played across qualifying and tournament as a whole, while the tournament itself starts as early as June. Knockout fixtures are played according to a simple knockout system, with each team playing home and away against their opponent. There is a maximum of three qualifying rounds, with teams entering at a specific stage that is determined by their status and previous performance.

Once this stage is completed, the group phase will take place featuring all 48 qualified sides. This group stage will be structured into 12 groups of four, with the only initial stipulation being that clubs from the same association cannot be drawn in the same section. Each team then engages in home and away fixtures against one another, resulting in six matches.

Three points are awarded for a win with a single point afforded for a draw, with the top two from each group qualifying for the final, knockout round of 32. They are then joined by the eight teams that finish third in each of the Champions League groups, creating a diverse draw that is usually rich in quality.

The Knockout Stages: How Will They Unfold?

It is here that the process is simplified considerably, with the 32 teams drawn together in the first round of the knockout phase. These ties are played over two legs, with the aggregate score after both home and away games determining the final result. The away goals rule is used in the event of a tie, before the successful teams’ progress to the last 16.

The same rules are then applied to the remainder of the knockout stages, with the winners at each stage processing through the last 16, the quarter finals and the semi-finals. The remaining two sides will compete in the final, and this year earn the additional honour of qualifying for the Champions League in 2016/17.

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