Europa League vs Champions League

Europa League vs Champions League – The Ultimate Showdown

Last updated on January 31st, 2022

There are quite a few competitions that UEFA hosts, such as the Europa League and the Champions League.

Have you ever thought of the differences between them, and why there are these 2 competitions?

Here’s what you need to know:

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The difference between Europa League and Champions League

Both the Europa League and Champions League are the top European continental competitions. However, based on the teams that qualify for both competitions, the teams from the Champions League are those that perform better in the previous season’s league competition.

Here is an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

Both the Europa League and the Champions League consist of 32 teams. During the group stages of these 2 competitions, there are 8 groups which contain 4 teams each.

This only measures the number of teams that appear in the competition proper (from the group stages onwards). There will be 8 teams from the Champions League which will play in the Europa League too, which will be covered later.

Origin of teams

Both the Europa League and Champions League consists of teams that originate from a member country of UEFA.

Otherwise, you will have to play in the continental competition where your country is from.

This gives a wide variety of teams that feature in both the Europa League and Champions League. One such team is FC Sheriff Tiraspol, which originates from Moldova.

This club gained prominence after beating Real Madrid at home during a Champions League group match!

The Europa League will contain a lot of teams that you may not have heard of, as these are usually the teams that are not the champions of their respective domestic leagues.

Some teams you may not have heard of include:

ClubCountry
of Origin
BrøndbyDenmark
Sturm GrazAustria
AntwerpBelgium
Ludogorets RazgradHungary

There is definitely a wider variety of teams that are found in the Europa League, as they may not come from the top leagues in football including:

  1. Premier League
  2. La Liga
  3. Bundesliga
  4. Serie A
  5. Ligue 1

Qualification for competition

Here are the teams that will qualify for the different competitions:

Europa LeagueChampions League
League positionHighest league position that
does not qualify for Champions League
Champions to top
4 (depending on country)
Cup winnersYesNo
Previous season’s winnerEuropa Conference
League winners
Champions League and
Europa League winners

Here is an explanation of each method for qualifying for either competition:

#1 League position

The Champions League should contain the ‘better quality‘ teams as they include the top few teams from each league.

The top 4 teams from these leagues will immediately qualify for the group stages:

LeagueCountry of Origin
Premier LeagueEngland
La LigaSpain
Serie AItaly
BundesligaGermany

These countries are the ones with the highest UEFA coefficients. This means that the clubs from these countries have performed the best in UEFA competitions in the past 5 years.

For every other country below these top 4 leagues, ≤ 3 teams will qualify for the Champions League group stages.

The teams that qualify for the Europa League from the league position will be the highest positions that do not qualify for the Champions League.

This means that for the Premier League, the 5th placed team will qualify for the Europa League. However, if the 5th placed team so happens to win the Champions League, they will play in the Champions League instead.

This is because the Champions League allows up to 5 teams from the same league to qualify for the competition.

#2 Cup winners

Usually, each UEFA country will have both a league and cup competition. For example, the teams in Spain will participate in La Liga and Copa del Rey.

However, England is one of the few countries that has 2 domestic cups: the FA Cup and the EFL Cup. Only the FA Cup winners will qualify for the Europa League, while the EFL Cup winners will qualify for the Europa Conference League.

The cup winners from each country will receive a place in the Europa League, but not the Champions League.

You can only qualify for the Champions League based on your league position or if your team won last season’s Europa League or Champions League.

If your team has already qualified for the Champions League, the Europa League spot will be given to the next highest team in the league that has not qualified for Europe yet.

#3 Previous season’s winners

If your team wins either the Champions League or the Europa League, they will automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League.

With the introduction of the new Europa Conference League, the winners of that competition will qualify for next season’s Europa League.

Frequency and duration of competition

Both competitions occur on a yearly basis, as part of the club football calendar.

The Champions League usually runs the span of around 11 months, usually between June to May. Meanwhile, the Europa League starts slightly later in July, but they will end in May as well.

The Champions League final is usually played after the end of all the European leagues.

Since the Champions League is like the ultimate curtain closer for the European football season, the final will be held later compared to the Europa League.

Format of competition

Both the Europa League and the Champions League contain a group stage, and then a knockout round.

The top 2 teams from each group will progress to the knockout round of the competition. This applies to both the Europa League and Champions League.

The knockout round starts with the round of 16. After that, teams will be slowly eliminated until the finals where the top 2 teams will play against each other.

However, there are some differences for the 3rd place teams in the group stages of either competition:

CompetitionFate of 3rd place team in each group
Champions LeagueQualify for preliminary knockout
round for Europa League
Europa LeagueQualify for preliminary knockout
round for Europa Conference League

If your team is in 3rd place of the group stages of either competition, they will automatically qualify for the preliminary knockout round of the ‘lower-tiered’ competition.

If you’re wondering what happens if the top teams have the same points in the group stages, you can check out this article to find out more.

2-legged ties in the knockout round

Both the Europa League and Champions League contain 2 legs for each knockout round. This means that the teams will play both at home and away.

This applies to the preliminary knockout round for the Europa League, all the way until the semi-finals.

The Europa League and Champions League finals are the only one-legged rounds during the knockout stage of either competition.

The double-legged rounds ensure that there is no ‘unfair’ advantage of only one team playing in their home ground.

In this way, there is an equal chance for both teams to perform well in front of their fans!

Number of matches

Here are the number of matches you’ll play in total if you reach the final from the Group Stages for both competitions:

RoundNumber
of Matches
Group Stages6
Round of 162
Quarter-Finals2
Semi-Finals2
Final1

As such, the maximum number of matches that you can play is 13. If your team gets knocked out in the earlier stages, they will play fewer matches.

If your team was in 3rd place in the Champions League group stages, they will qualify for the preliminary knockout round in the Europa League.

This means that your team will have to play 2 additional matches before they can progress to the Round of 16.

Squad size

Since both the Europa League and Champions League are competitions that are organised by UEFA, they have similar rules for registering players in their squad.

There are 2 lists that a team can register for their squad.

The first list (List A) has a maximum of 25 players, where 8 of them have to be homegrown players. Meanwhile, the second list (List B) consists of players who are born on or after 1 Jan 1995 as well as other requirements.

There can be an unlimited number of players who are registered on List B.

You can read more about the ‘homegrown’ rule in the Premier League, Champions League and other competitions in my guide here.

Loan player rules

Since both the Europa League and Champions League are UEFA competitions, they will follow the rules that are set out by UEFA.

Some competitions like the Premier League explicitly state that loan players cannot play against their parent club in Premier League matches.

However, this is not mentioned in the rules by UEFA. This means that loaned players are able to play against their parent clubs, and it actually has happened quite a few times!

One of the more notable ones was when Philippe Coutinho played for Bayern Munich, against his parent club (Barcelona).

He came off the bench to score 2 goals and produce 1 assist against Barcelona!

You can read more about the loan players rules in the different leagues with my guide.

Rewards for winning competition

Here are the rewards you’ll receive when you win either competition:

Europa LeagueChampions League
Prize MoneyLowerHigher
Qualification for next
season’s Champions League
YesYes
Qualification
for Super Cup
UEFA Super CupUEFA Super Cup

The rewards for winning both competitions are rather similar, except for the prize money.

When comparing between the 2020/21 prize money that the winners received in the Europa League and the Champions League, the Champions League winners received much more (£7.5 million vs £16 million).

Both the Europa League and Champions League winners will gain automatic qualification to next season’s Champions League, and they will play each other in the UEFA Super Cup too.

Verdict

Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

Europa LeagueChampions League
Number
of teams
32 (+ 8 from CL)32
Origin
of teams
EuropeEurope
QualificationHighest positions that
do not qualify for CL
Cup winners
Europa Conference
League winners
Best teams in each league
(based on UEFA coefficient)
CL and EL winners
FrequencyAnnuallyAnnually
Duration10 months11 months
FormatGroup stage +
knockout rounds
Group stage +
knockout rounds
2-legged tiesPresentPresent
Number
of matches
Maximum of 15Maximum of 13
Squad size25 (17 homegrown)25 (17 homegrown)
Loan player rulesCan play
against parent club
Can play
against parent club
Prize MoneyHigherLower
Qualification for next
season’s Champions League
YesYes
Qualification
for Super Cup
UEFA Super CupUEFA Super Cup

Both of them are rather similar!

Is the Europa League better than the Champions League?

The Europa League usually contains the teams that are of ‘less quality’ compared to the Champions League. This is because the Champions League contains the previous season’s Europa League and Champions League winners, along with the top teams from each league, while the Europa League contains the next best teams that do not qualify for the Champions League.

If we were to look at the teams that qualify for each competition, the teams in the Champions League are usually the better performers from the previous season.

Here’s a comparison of the Europa League and Champions League finals from the previous seasons:

SeasonEuropa League FinalChampions League Final
2020/21Villarreal vs Manchester UnitedChelsea vs Manchester City
2019/20Sevilla vs Inter MilanBayern Munich vs PSG
2018/19Chelsea vs ArsenalLiverpool vs Tottenham
2017/18Atletico Madrid vs MarseilleReal Madrid vs Liverpool

Usually, the teams in the Champions League final are the better performing teams in their respective leagues as well.

As such, we may be able to assume that, in general, the quality of football matches in the Champions League may be much higher compared to the Europa League. These are the top few teams in their respective leagues, which suggest they have better financial power to buy much better players.

The Champions League has given us wonderful ties such as Liverpool vs Barcelona (2018/19),

and Manchester City vs Monaco (2016/17).

However, the Europa League has had its fair share of entertaining matches such as Manchester United vs Roma (2020/21),

and Arsenal vs Valencia (2018/19).

As such, both competitions are definitely entertaining, especially since it gives an opportunity for different European clubs to play against each other!

Conclusion

The Europa League and the Champions League are 2 of the top club competitions in the world. Since European football is arguably the best in the world as it attracts the best talent, these 2 competitions allow for the best of these teams to compete with each other.

However, based on the teams that qualify for the Europa League vs the Champions League, it is possible to assume that the quality of the teams in the Champions League will be better compared to the Europa League!

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