Even if it is for wrong reasons, one could say that the upcoming Europa League final has almost upstaged the Champions League counterpart in terms of media coverage.
UEFA’s choice of venue for the final, Baku, has attracted a lot of criticism from all corners for multiple reasons. Fans of both clubs have had to face multiple difficulties in travelling to Azerbaijan, and then there is the issue of Henrikh Mkhitaryan not being able to participle because of his Armenian nationality.
However, the final has also received unprecedented attention in the football community because of the two finalists – two hugely popular Premier League clubs.
UEFA might have taken a lot of wrong decisions in their history. But they got it right when they decided to award a Champions League spot to the Europa League winner in 2013/14. It has especially helped the tournament with the enormous fanbase of Premier League.
About a decade back, the big English clubs never used to take this tournament seriously, with the Grand National 2019 getting much more attention usually, and we only saw Premier League sides like Fulham and Middlesbrough made it to finals from 2001 to 2013.
However, a lot has changed since 13-14, even more so for Premier League clubs. After making just three appearances in 14 finals of Europa League (& UEFA Cup), Premier League sides have made four in last four finals. A lot also has to do with the never-before-seen competition in Premier League.
Currently, there are six world-class sides fighting for four Champions League spots in Premier League. In the last few years, clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have regularly finished outside the top-four. Hence, they have had to rely on alternative methods to qualify for the Champions League.
Manchester United did it under Jose Mourinho in 2017, and Unai Emery’s Arsenal are trying to do the same this season. In fact, this game is so huge for the Gunners that their short-term future depends on it. The final might not hold the same significance for Chelsea as they have already qualified for Champions League. Still, there is no doubt that Chelsea fans would relish another European trophy, especially at the expense of their local rivals.
This final might be a travelling nightmare for the English fans, but one can still expect the 68,700-seater Olympic Stadium to be full for the event. Both clubs have a lot of fans in Eastern Europe, and a huge number has also travelled to Baku from Asia.
Arsenal and Chelsea have fans all over the globe, and one can clearly see how much their global reach has helped the popularity of Europa League this year. However, this has been a mutually beneficial relationship. If Arsenal manage to win on Wednesday, then for the second time in three years, there will be five Premier League sides participating in Champions League.
And this relationship is only set to become stronger as Manchester United are set to reappear in the tournament next season.