Europa League: Aston Villa and West Ham should relish any openings

Aston Villa and West Ham have both been handed unexpected opportunities to qualify for Europe next term.

Villa will head straight for the Europa League group stage if successful in the FA Cup final – a [3.75] prospect – while the Irons will be tasked with four rounds of qualifiers starting on July 2 should they hold on to top spot in the Premier League Fair Play Table and England remain in UEFA’s top three.

However, rather than embracing the prospect of a first continental venture in five and nine years respectively, many club officials and some fans treat it with trepidation, wary that it will increase the likelihood of relegation. There were even reports, since denied, that West Ham would turn down a spot if offered.

Yet for all the scaremongering about how Everton’s poorest season in at least nine years followed their return to Europe – made worse by their domestic improvement since elimination – no Premier League team have been demoted in a campaign in which they graced Europe since Ipswich in 2001/02.

Sure, the extra workload may make it trickier for Villa or West Ham to sustain a top-eight challenge, but how plausible is that anyway? Villa haven’t finished higher than 15th since 2011 – when they stopped qualifying for Europe incidentally – while the Irons last placed in the top eight in 2001/02.

The east Londoners admittedly flirted with the drop following their previous overseas adventure (though they have done so many times since without being able to use UEFA as an excuse), yet it clearly didn’t drain them as they achieved survival by winning seven of their closing nine games.

Similarly, a cup run has certainly helped rather than hindered Villa this season, reacquainting them with the forgotten taste of victory. Even accounting for their ascent under Tim Sherwood, they have won as many FA Cup matches as Premier League fixtures since mid-September – five apiece.

The final point to raise is that, as much as Europa League participation has appeared to disrupt Everton in 2014/15, the widespread belief that any progress in the competition guarantees a domestic dip is unsubstantiated.

Sevilla have finished in La Liga’s top five in each of the three campaigns that they won the Europa League in the past nine years, outperforming their league position and points haul of the pre-triumph season each time. Benfica dethroned Porto in Portugal while reaching last year’s final.

You doubtless want English examples, so here goes: Chelsea climbed three Premier League places in addition to claiming the Europa League in 2012/13, Fulham stayed 16 points clear of the bottom three when reaching the 2010/11 final and Middlesbrough were safe by 11 points when they did in 2005/06.