Aston Villa’s Europa Conference League Situation
After finishing 7th in the Premier League Aston Villa earned a play-off berth in the Europa Conference League. The play-off round is the final round before the ground stages and follows three rounds of qualifying matches, which Villa will skip.
The only thing that still needs to be decided is whether Villa will be seeded for the draw that takes place on August 7th. Currently, Villa is at the top of the unseeded pool of teams, but this situation may change over the course of this week.
Going through all the specific permutations now would essentially be a waste of everyone’s time, as it involves waiting for the outcomes of the Turkish Cup final, Romanian and Danish European play-offs, not to mention various European leagues coming to their conclusions this weekend.
Worst Case Scenario
If Villa remains unseeded, they could potentially play against Juventus in their play-off match if Juventus ends up in 7th place in Serie A, thus securing the Conference League spot due to their 10-point deduction. That would probably be the toughest game Villa could face in the whole tournament, mainly because without the points deduction, Juventus would be in the Champions League.
Other possible Italian options could be Roma or Atalanta.
Currently, in terms of La Liga, all the Spanish teams that could possibly finish in the Conference League spot, currently held by Osasuna, have lost more games than they’ve won this season. So Villa will have nothing to fear there.
From a Villa European history point of view, it would be interesting to see Athletic Bilbao advance. However, in their final La Liga game, they would have to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabéu to have any chance. If they fail to do so, then the winner of Osasuna vs Girona would take the spot.
In France, like Italy and Spain, Ligue 1 will conclude this weekend. In Germany, however, while the Bundesliga is over, the outcome of the DFB-Pokal German Cup final will determine who represents Germany in the Conference League.
Eintracht Frankfurt will face Champions League-bound RB Leipzig, and if they lose, they will secure a spot in the Conference League. But if they beat Leipzig, then Bayer Leverkusen will take the spot, and Frankfurt will secure a Europa League berth.
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While the play-off draw still has a long way to go before taking shape, one potential opponent that could intrigue Villa supporters is Rapid Vienna, our recent nightmare in European adventures. Seeking revenge against the Austrians, who eliminated Villa from both the 2009/10 and 2010/11 UEFA Europa League play-offs, is certainly on Villa’s European bucket list.
Villa a Favourite
Regardless of the seeding for the play-off stage, Villa would certainly be one of the favorites going into the Europa Conference League, offering Unai Emery his best chance at silverware in the 2023/24 season.
In any of the domestic competitions, Villa have to pip the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. However, they wouldn’t face such obstacles in the Europa Conference League.
With the exception of perhaps Juventus, if they end up in the tournament, while there are potentially tough opponents, Villa wouldn’t be seen as outright underdogs in any of the matches.
The way football has evolved in the past decade since Villa’s last European campaign, the financial strength of the Premier League offers a significant advantage for English teams. A team like Villa, who qualified for the Premier League in the previous season, wouldn’t fear any team in the tournament.
You only need to look at the disparity between this season’s finalists West Ham and Fiorentina. As the Swiss Ramble reported, West Ham’s £255m revenue is over twice that of Fiorentina’s £100m, with the East Londoners’ £136m wages nearly double that of the Italians’ £69m. West Ham’s squad cost of £268m is close to 40% (£83m) higher than their opponents’ £185m.
It may not be fair, but Villa, like many Premier League teams, have been victims of injustice when considering the financial doping of Manchester City and Chelsea. Therefore, they might as well use the Europa Conference League to their advantage.
That means taking the competition seriously and not fielding significantly weakened line-ups, thus disrespecting their traveling fans.
While we cherish the memories of the European Cup in 1982 and the Super Cup in the following season, when it comes to some of our more recent European exploits, there are a few nightmares we need to finally banish.