There can be no doubt that Spain has had a special relationship with Europe’s second-tier competition.
With eleven wins under the Spanish flag, teams from the ‘bigger’ side of the Iberian partition have won it more than any other nation.
Such a tally is made all the more impressive when one considers that nine of those wins have come in the last 15 years – a decade and a half that has also yielded a first World Cup for the national side.
The ‘English Job’
The team that started that long run of Spanish success was Valencia, who remain in hot pursuit of the club’s fourth Europa League trophy.
Back in 2004, they beat Marseille 2-0 in Gothenburg, and while it might not have been solely responsible for the revival of Spanish football’s profile in the mid-2000s, it was certainly a great period for the club.
Winning the 2019 Europa League final would see Valencia re-establish themselves as a force to threaten La Liga’s current ‘big three’. To do that, current odds and form suggest that they will have to get past two of the most successful English teams of the 21st century, and do so as underdogs each time.
First up is a difficult tie against Arsenal who will want to win their first piece of silverware under Unai Emery.
The Gunners’ form has been inconsistent this season and Valencia will be hoping to take advantage of that. There can be no doubt that if Arsenal play anywhere near as badly in the Mestalla meeting as they have done recently, in away matches at Wolves and Everton, then it will likely be another ‘England v Spain’ final in this competition.
A Different ‘Treble’?
Ultimately, regardless of how Valencia end their season, a fascinating time awaits the club.
With only a few games left in the season, Valencia are fighting hard on three fronts. Not only are they trying to win the Europa League and finish in the top four, but they will also be hoping for Copa Del Rey success too. The final against Barcelona on the 25th May will be a hard mountain to climb, but it gives Valencia another shot at glory nonetheless.
In order to get that glory, their best players are going to need to perform. Daniel Parejo has been magnificent this season, and along with Domenech, Kondogbia and Garay, has helped the team form a fantastic spine on which to build a season of multiple trophy wins.
Fourth Place Provides a Safety Net
Due to the stature of the ‘likeliest’ finalists Chelsea and Arsenal, Valencia are currently third-favourites in outright sports spreads to win the competition.
In knowing this, fans of the club will take solace in the fact that there are still two opportunities for Valencia to progress into the Champions League for next season.
Spanish football’s mid-2000s revival also boosted the nation’s UEFA coefficient, meaning that the top four La Liga teams will get a shot at Champions League football for the foreseeable future.
Fourth place is still sufficient this time around, and due to rule changes, a Europa League win for Valencia and a finish of fifth or lower would see five Spanish teams take part in the 2019/20 Champions League.
Such an eventuality would pay further dividends into the UEFA coefficient of Spain’s top flight, and follow the example of 2017/18, when there were five English teams in the Champions League, after Manchester United’s success in the 2017 Europa League final.
The Race is Valencia’s to Lose in La Liga
Valencia will still be hoping to get that much vaunted top-four finish, and it is currently shaping up to be a three-horse race, as both Getafe and Sevilla are also dreaming of playing in Europe’s most elite competition next season.
On paper at least, the league fixtures look relatively kind for ‘Los Che’. With games coming up against the likes of Eibar, Huesca, Alaves and Valladolid, they have every right to expect a clear run of victories, with or without the distraction of Europe.
Indeed, with Getafe having to play Barcelona and Sevilla having to play both Atletico and Bilbao, the opportunity is very much there.