Welcome to the second tier, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid. Sure you’ve been a part of three of the last five Champions League finals, but sweet Thursday night road trips are in your future after finishing third in your respective UCL groups to earn the Europa League parachute.
Atletico played in the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016, losing to crosstown rival Real Madrid both times. Los Colchoneros are ranked No. 2 in UEFA’s club coefficients, a rating score based on the previous five seasons of European play.
Dortmund lost the 2013 final to Bundesliga rival Bayern Munich and is ranked No. 9 in the club coefficients.
After failing to finish in the top two in the Champions League group stage, both Dortmund and Atletico will parachute into the Europa League. So while the Champions League will lose two of its biggest clubs for its Round of 16, the Europa League just got a whole lot more exciting, adding two teams that could easily win the title.
And Arsenal’s road back to the Champions League just got much more difficult.
Dortmund has been out of the running for a UCL knockout-round spot for a while now, performing miserably while earning only two points so far in draws against APEOL. Atletico still had hope going into Tuesday. Atleti needed to beat Chelsea and hope Roma failed to beat Qarabag. Neither happened — Atletico tied 1-1 and Roma won 1-0.
Atletico has a chance to be seeded for the Round of 32 draw pending the results of Wednesday’s matches. Dortmund will definitely be unseeded and could find itself drawn against Arsenal, Villarreal, AC Milan or any of the other group winners when the draw takes place on Dec. 11.
There is some hope for Atleti. The last time they were knocked out of the Champions League group stage back in 2009, they lifted the Europa League trophy the following spring.
Other third-place teams confirmed for the Europa League on Tuesday included CSKA Moscow, Celtic and Sporting. RB Leipzig, Spartak Moscow and Napoli are also currently in third place and can either qualify for the Champions League with positive results on Wednesday or take the Europa League parachute.
Based on how the tournament has gone thus far, expect Napoli, one of the best teams in Italy this year, to join Dortmund, Atletico and Arsenal in the Europa League. Finally, Europe’s secondary club competition is giving us a reason to watch that doesn’t include mockery.