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Why Chelsea will enjoy being in the Europa League: Game time, silverware and a safety net

Maurizio Sarri feels Eden Hazard is the best player in Europe following his hat trick display against Cardiff City.

Chelsea's players and supporters will have undoubtedly witnessed the Champions League group stage get underway with more than a tinge of regret. The glamour, prestige and history of the competition surpasses any other in club football and missing out on it will be painful.

But while the Europa League might be the poor relation, there are three reasons why participation can have its benefits for Chelsea this season.

There will be vital game time for fringe players

Fixture congestion is usually one of those issues that Premier League managers love to moan about, though in Maurizio Sarri's case he may well be positively welcoming it.

Still finding out about his players' strengths and weaknesses and how they might fit into the fluid system of play to which he rigidly sticks, two games a week until December will necessitate the full use of his squad.

Of course, the ideal scenario would be for Chelsea to juggle the demands of Premier League football with adventures in the Champions League, though there is a silver lining to their current situation. Had they qualified for the Champions League, they would have to play as close to the Sarri's preferred first XI as possible due to the level of opposition. That in turn would risk burning out the likes of Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante, players of vital importance to any success and those whose game is as reliant on energy as anything else.

While those two and other first-team regulars are hardly likely to be given a leave of absence for the entirety of the Europa League group stage, it does mean that they can potentially be kept in reserve in case they are needed while allowing others to show their skills.

Ruben-Loftus, Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Andreas Christensen will be among those desperate to impress and they should be able to do so by starting matches rather than via brief cameos from the substitutes' bench.

It's a genuine chance of winning silverware

The currency of any club with ambition is silverware. Like all professional sports, football is about winning and the only tangible proof that a team is successful is by looking at their trophy cabinet. Aesthetically pleasing styles of play and popularity among neutrals is all very well but it ultimately means little if there is nothing to show for it.

Unlike at some other Premier league clubs, Chelsea managers and teams are judged on what they win and not on how valiantly they fall short. The Europa League, therefore, could allow Sarri to enhance his reputation within the corridors of Stamford Bridge and also break his duck to win his maiden piece of silverware in the process.

While the modest opposition on show means expectations are high for Chelsea to at least get to the business end of the tournament, there should be excitement and confidence within the squad that it represents an opportunity to add a European title to their medal collection.

Chelsea have been installed as favourites to lift the trophy in Baku next May and they should take heart from that status and not feel burdened by the tag.

Winning it means an easy route to Champions League qualification

For some, the Europa League is a worthless backwater populated by the flotsam and jetsam of Europe's lesser leagues. For others, there is a certain romance about visiting the far-flung lesser-known parts of the continent where the heart and soul of football resides away from the glitzy metropolitan super clubs of the 21st Century.

Whatever your persuasion, the lure of Champions League qualification for the victors means that there is now undoubted value in winning the tournament.

Even Jose Mourinho, one of the Europa League's most vocal detractors, showed the competition his ultimate respect by prioritising it over the Premier League in the 2016-17 season as he had severe doubts over his Manchester United side's ability to finish in the top four.

With Champions League football the minimum requirement for those in charge of clubs such as Man United and Chelsea, Mourinho's focus was pragmatic, if risky, as he rested players on the weekend during the latter stages of the season so that they could be fresh on Thursday nights.

There was plenty of criticism levelled at him for his approach, though he was vindicated when his side beat Ajax in the final.

Chelsea's unbeaten start to the season has raised their hopes of qualifying automatically for the Champions League via their league position, but they also have a potential safety net should they falter domestically over the coming months.

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