Liverpool could qualify for next year's Champions League by winning the Europa League. PA Wire/PA Images

Straight knockout and goodbye to Thursdays: 5 ways to improve the Europa League

As Man United join Liverpool and Spurs in the last 32, we look at potential changes to improve the Europa League.

1. Straight Knockout

THE EUROPA LEAGUE should be a real alternative to the Champions League, not a lesser version of Europe’s elite competition.

If Cork City, who entered the tournament at the first qualifying round, were to do the unimaginable and win the competition, they would have to play 23 matches.

Even German side Borussia Dortmund would have to play 19 matches if they were going to lift the trophy in Basel in May. That is more than half of the number league matches they will play this season.

Straight knockout will entice more people to watch and create a real cup atmosphere to bring the competition to life.

2. No entry for teams finishing third in their Champions League group

Manchester United along with seven other sides finishing third in their Champions League group, including last year’s Europa League winners Sevilla, enter the competition at the round of 32 stage.

There is something not right about a team winning a competition that they did not enter at the start of the season and did not want to win.

For Manchester United fans, Thursday nights will be the equivalent of being dragged around clothes shopping by your partner. You don’t want to be there but feel obliged to go through with it anyway.

Louis van Gaal File Photo Louis van Gaal is under increased pressure from Manchester United fans after failing to progress from their Champions League group. Martin Rickett Martin Rickett

3. No more Thursday night football

There is a stigma about playing Thursday night football, especially in England, where it is seen to affect your league form.

There is no reason why matches cannot be played on the same nights as the Champions League. There are a couple of options here; matches could be played earlier at 6pm and move the Champions League to 8pm starts or play both tournaments at the same time.

In rugby for example, matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup are often played on the same nights, at the same time with no issue.

4. Breaking it up to regions

As the Europa League has a tremendous spread of teams across Europe, it may be beneficial for the tournament to be broken up into sections with only certain teams from specific regions playing each other.

This season for example, the group stage of the tournament included two sides from Azerbaijan, Gabala FC and Qarabağ FK, with several others from Albania, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

If the qualifying rounds and the group stages of the competition were broken into regions such as East and West, this could only enhance the attractiveness of the competition for everybody involved.

Soccer - Europa League - Third Qualifying Round - Second Leg - Aberdeen v Kairat Almaty - Pittodrie Stadium Kairat Almaty set a new UEFA record in August when they traveled 5,947km to play Bordeaux in the UEFA Europa League in August. Jeff Holmes Jeff Holmes

 5. Bigger cash prize

In the modern game, financial gain is the main driver for most clubs.

The incentive to progress in the competition is not the same for clubs competing in the Champions League. Although this is the first year of UEFA’s new cycle, the governing failed to redistribute the pot of money more fairly.

For example, one Champions League group win is worth over four times more (€1.5m) than a win in the Europa League (€360k).

Another example of the stark contrast is that Manchester United will receive €500k for reaching the last 32 of the Europa League, while PSV will earn over 10 times more, €5.5m, even if they fail to progress any further in the Champions League this season.

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