Saturday’s Premier League clash between West Ham and Everton at Upton Park brings together two clubs vying for a European berth via the Fair Play standings.
England, along with the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, have been awarded an additional UEFA Europa League place for next season, with West Ham currently leading the list of eligible candidates ahead of Everton and Burnley.
Everton, who are 11th and three points behind West Ham, have found it difficult to balance their domestic and continental aspirations in 2014-15, and captain Phil Jagielka has mixed feelings about the prospect of another Europa League campaign.
“It’s a difficult one,” he told Everton TV. “We always want to finish as high as possible in the league and we want to finish in Europe.
“Europe has been good for us and bad for us this season. It’s been a double-edged sword – we’ve played some really good football but it has affected us in the league.
“With some of the journeys we have had and the fixture list afterwards, it seems like we have had an away European game followed by another away Premier League game.
“But if we are in the [Europa League] competition – and it is a competition we can do well in – we will be happy to play in it.
“I’m sure the manager will have some big decisions to make as to who would be involved in the first few games because basically it is before pre-season. But that is something for the manager to decide and the squad that he will have at his disposal.
“We have got some great players who are desperate to play and some good young lads as well, so we will just have to wait and see.
“Obviously it would be a long journey if we do come in at this stage but I’m sure if we use the squad then it could be an interesting competition to be in again.”
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, meanwhile, would welcome the challenge of European football, assuming he is still in the job next season amid mounting speculation surrounding his future.
“Once they [the players] get over the fact that it means coming back a bit earlier I’m sure they’ll relish it,” he said. “It’s a new competition for most of our players and it gives our players who haven’t played as much as they would’ve liked an opportunity to play.
“It also gives a new opportunity for our younger players coming through. It would be a very long season, starting on July 2 and we’ll finish two weeks later than normal. It’ll be an extremely difficult challenge but one we’ll be happy to take on.”
Everton’s Leighton Baines has been ruled out of the last two matches of the season after undergoing ankle surgery, while Darron Gibson (foot), Tony Hibbert (knee), Bryan Oviedo (foot) and Steven Pienaar (muscle) remain sidelined.
West Ham also have their fair share of injury problems, with defender James Tomkins (shoulder) hoping to return in time for the final game of the season at Newcastle United.
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