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Europa League Presents Another Route to Champions League Qualification for Roma

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The EL is often thought of as a second rate competition, but it presents the Giallorossi with another crack at a 2020/21 Champions League place.

UEFA Europa League 2019/20 Round of 32 Draw Photo by Harold Cunningham - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Roma’s struggles to open 2020 have been well documented. The current three-match losing streak in league play has dropped the Giallorossi to fifth in Serie A. The most recent of those matches, a 2-1 loss to Atalanta—who area direct competitor for a Champions League spot.

That’s bad news when you consider Roma’s reliance of Champions League income to help balance the books. With Roma’s current poor run of form and a six point deficit to make up on La Dea, the Giallorossi’s CL qualification hopes are fading fast.

In fact, Saturday’s loss has lowered Roma’s probability of finishing top 4 to just 13%, according to fivethirtyeight.com. That’s down from 65% at the end of the 2019 calendar year. Conversely, Atalanta’s probability of a top four finish has risen from 54% to 86% in that same time span. While all hope is not lost, finishing ahead of Atalanta domestically is looking much more difficult than it did a few weeks ago.

Slide over image to see CL qualification probability from December to now.
fivethirtyeight.com and fivethirtyeight.com

But, hold on. A top four finish is not Roma’s only chance of qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition. The Giallorossi have another opportunity: They can also qualify by winning the Europa League.

Oftentimes, the Europa League is scoffed at, thought of as a second rate competition. It piles more matches onto an already busy calendar. This seems to be the line of thinking with many Serie A sides, based on their early exits from the competition. However, considering its current position in the league table, Roma would be wise to give the Europa League maximum effort.

Winning the Europa League is in itself no small task. There are plenty of quality teams for the Giallorossi to contend with. However, with Champions League qualification through league position decreasing in probability, could a Europa League title be the more feasible route?

Roma’s knockout stage begins against Belgian side Gent on Thursday. It’s the Giallorossi’s first opportunity to right the ship on a floundering season, so this match will really serve a double purpose for Fonseca. Stop the awful run of results that the Giallorossi find themselves in and take the first step to advancing out of the round of 32.

Gent will be no walkovers. De Buffaloes currently sit second in the Belgian Super League and won a Europa League group that included German side Wolfsberg. However, despite those facts and Roma’s current struggles, Fonseca’s side is given a 72% chance of winning the tie by FiveThirtyEight. Only Sevilla (92%) and Inter (79%) have a higher probability of advancing to the Round of 16.

If Roma is able to overcome Gent and get back to its winning ways, what are the chances it can actually win the whole thing? Well, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Giallorossi are given the ninth best probability (5%) of lifting the trophy— a first in the American era.

Round-by-round probability of advancing for top 15 teams remaining in the Europa League.

As you can see in the above graphic, there some traditional powers remaining in the tournament. Inter Milan, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Ajax jump out at you. While others like Porto, Sevilla, and Celtic have plenty of European experience in their histories.

Roma are far from the favorites, but some things could play into their favor. For one, some teams like Inter, Salzburg, Olympiacos, Porto, and Benfica are in heated fights for league titles that could draw their attention away from the EL. Meanwhile, Sevilla, Getafe, Leverkusen, and United all could focus their energy on CL qualification through the league route— each is three points or less away.

Also, some of the round of 32 fixtures will see top teams eliminated in head-to-head match-ups. Leverkusen face Porto, while Ajax and Getafe square off. So, at least one, if not two, of the teams ranked ahead of Roma will be gone.

All that looks favorable for the Giallorossi in theory. But, of course, it all really comes down to Roma. Fonseca’s side must first beat Gent, followed by anyone else they draw in subsequent rounds. All in all, the Giallorossi would have to get through five more rounds.

Nevertheless, if Roma plays its cards right, a Europa League title is not out of the realm of possibility. It’ll be up to Fonseca and the players to really go for it. But with Roma’s stated objective of CL qualification hanging in the balance, all means for achieving that goal should be exhausted.

Poll

Considering its current league position, how should Roma approach the Europa League?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Go all out to win the competition.
    (151 votes)
  • 33%
    Play to win, but Serie A should still take precedence.
    (80 votes)
  • 0%
    Let the reserves play and hope for the best.
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Crash out ASAP and focus on the league.
    (7 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now