It is no secret that the Europa League is seen by many as a vastly inferior competition to the Champions League, not so much its little brother as a completely irrelevant, irritating second cousin.
But although this may still be the case for fans of some Premier League sides, in Spain the tournament is taken much more seriously, and rightly so. Current holders Sevilla have won the trophy a record four times in the last decade, while Atlético have won it twice, once in 2010 and once in 2012 in an all-Spanish final against Athletic Club.
So while the Premier League’s representatives largely floundered in the round of 32 last night, with Manchester United losing 2-1 to Danish champions Midtyjlland and Spurs and Liverpool drawing to Fiorentina and Augsburg respectively, the Spanish sides left in the competition racked up a total score of 11-0 against their opponents.
At the Mestalla, Gary Neville’s struggling Valencia outfit equalled the competition’s biggest win by taking Rapid Wien apart 6-0, with Santi Mina scoring twice and completing a hat-trick of assists. Following Los Che‘s first win since November in La Liga against Espanyol on Sunday (Neville’s first as manager of the side) this thrashing could well be the turning point in their season.
Sevilla were almost as rampant, with Fernando Llorente scoring a brace after an 11-game goalless spell in a performance reminiscent of his Athletic days. The Andalusians beat Molde 3-0, and have an excellent chance of winning the Europa League for the third time in a row.
Elsewhere, Athletic beat Marseille 1-0 thanks to a spectacular long-range, first-time volley from the evergreen Aritz Aduriz (35 years old!) which will almost certainly be one of the contenders for goal of the tournament. Denis Suarez’s curling free-kick, meanwhile, meant that Villarreal secured a 1-0 win against Napoli.
All four sides find themselves in an ideal position to progress to the round of 16, and there is every chance that one of these teams may end up lifting the trophy at the end of the season. Spain’s domination of the Europa League continues.