The UEFA Europa League comprises three qualifying rounds, a play-off round, a group stage and five knockout rounds.
In matches in the three qualifying rounds and the play-offs, clubs play two matches against each other on a home-and-away basis. The club which scores the greater aggregate of goals qualifies for the next round, with away goals and then penalties used to determine the winner in the event of a draw.
The 38 play-off round winners join the ten losers from the UEFA Champions League play-offs. The clubs are split into 12 groups of four teams, playing home and away against each of their pool opponents between September and December. Two sides from each section advance, proceeding into the round of 32 alongside eight third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League group stage.
From the last 32 until the semi-finals, clubs play two games against each other on a home-and-away basis with the same rules as the qualifying and play-off rounds applied. In the last 32, group winners and the four third-placed sides from the UEFA Champions League with the best records are seeded, guaranteeing they will play the second leg at home. Teams from the same group or the same association cannot be drawn together. From the round of 16 onwards the draw is free.
The final is decided by a single match, which this season will be played at the National Stadium, Bucharest on Wednesday 9 May.
Further details, including the criteria for separating teams that finish level on points in a group, can be found in the official competition regulations.
When the winning captain steps up to lift the trophy in Bucharest on 9 May, they will have to find a few last scraps of energy as the UEFA Europa League Trophy is the heaviest of all UEFA silverware. Tipping the scales at 15kg, it is 65cm high, 33cm wide and 23cm deep.
The trophy, a silver cup on a yellow marble plinth, was designed and crafted by the Bertoni workshop in Milan. Unlike the other cups handed out at European club competitions, the trophy has no handles. Just above the plinth, a group of players seem to be jostling for the ball, when, in fact, they are supporting the octagonal 'cup' which is emblazoned with the UEFA emblem.
The original trophy remains in UEFA's keeping at all times, with a full-sized replica awarded to the winning club. Any club which wins the trophy three consecutive times or five times in total receives a special mark of recognition, with the club then starting a new cycle from zero. This has never happened.
In fact, sustained success has been so elusive that only four captains have managed to lift the prize more than once – most recently, Sevilla FC skipper Javi Navarro as the Andalusians triumphed for a second successive season in Glasgow in 2007.
©UEFA.com 1998-2011. All rights reserved.