Inter Milan, Sevilla and Man Utd lead the market this year with all three undoubtedly capable of going the distance. For Italian giants Inter, this isn’t the only trophy they’re gunning for and they could be forgiven for being distracted by their three-way Serie A title race with Juventus and Lazio.
Antonio Conte has made vast changes to his squad and has raided the Premier League for unwanted talent, namely in Romelu Lukaku, Christian Eriksen, Victor Moses, Ashley Young and Alexis Sanchez.
However, with their attention firmly planted on domestic challenges, coupled with the fact that Italian sides tend not to treat this competition with any form of respect, failing to supply a finalist since Parma in 1999, we’re inclined to overlook Conte’s men and especially at such a short price.
Man United and Sevilla find themselves in very similar scenarios. Both are on the outside looking in for coveted top-four spots in their respective leagues and their main focus will be on trying to occupy one of those come the end of the season.
However, they’ll both want to keep up in this competition should their domestic challenges fall by the wayside, meaning they’d require victory here to qualify for the Champions League next term.
The Red Devils last won this competition back in 2016/17 under Jose Mourinho, though with a less established winner at the helm we struggle to see them going all the way this time around.
That’s especially the case in the absence of top scorer Marcus Rashford, who isn’t expected to return until at least April.
They should qualify for the Last 16, though Club Brugge are clear frontrunners domestically in Belgium and will be relishing the challenge to face a heavyweight like Man United.
This won’t be a walk in the park, while with a whole host of extremely competitive teams remaining, Solskjaer’s men look too inconsistent for us to get behind in the outright.
Prior to 2016/17, Sevilla had won the previous three editions and know a thing or two about what it takes to go all the way. They have been given a gift of a Last 32 draw against CFR Cluj and should progress with relative ease and we wouldn’t be surprised if they put a good run together.
They are however lacking any real star quality at the moment, especially in the final third. Left-back Sergio Reguilon has arguably been their standout performer of the season, while their two top scorers have just 10 league goals between them and a dip in form has us second guessing their capacity to lift a major title.
Last year’s finalists Arsenal slot in just behind the market leaders and this should be a serious test of their credentials under new management. They currently sit an uncomfortable 10th in the Premier League, though the three teams directly below them have all delivered the same points haul.
A 10-point gap to fourth is too large to bridge, leaving this competition as their only realistic route to a return to Europe’s top table.
They also remain in the FA Cup and have a favourable draw against Portsmouth to reach the quarters, though with seven of the nine sides above them in the league still alive and kicking in that, it would be fair to assume the Europa League is the number one priority.
Gabriel Martinelli has proven he can handle the biggest stage, and with the attacking options Arsenal have at their disposal they should have enough to see off Olympiakos and make a charge.
The Gunners could prove difficult to beat and will want to right some wrongs from last year so, draw dependant, they’ll be ones to watch.
Ajax come in behind Mikel Arteta’s men at 7/1 and it’s difficult to see a way past the Dutch outfit. Last year’s run to the Champions League semis was no coincidence and although they’ve lost star quality in Frankie de Jong and Matheus de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech is making a case to be Eredivisie player of the season, while Dusan Tadic and Donny van der Beek continue to impress.
They’ve experienced a slight dip in form of late, losing three of their last six league games after winning 13 of their first 15 unbeaten matches in the Eredivisie, but should they come through their tie against Getafe they’ll be in a strong position to replicate their final run of 2016/17 and we’re happy to get behind such a dangerous side.
Wolves are the third English side in contention and are also competing for a European spot next year via the Premier League.
What’s notable is that Nuno Espirito Santo will unlikely be able to keep his squad fresh as they battle on two fronts, and either this competition or their domestic challenge will have to give way to a lack of depth.
Further, no English side outside the ‘Big Six’ has won this competition since it was rebranded in 2009, while the last English winner in Europe’s second-tier tournament beyond those sides was Ipswich back in 1980/81.
Although Middlesbrough and Fulham have each reached the final in 2005/06 and 2009/10 respectively, Newcastle are the only other non-‘Big Six’ side to get past the Last 16 stage since Leeds in 1999/00.
Despite Wolves’ indisputable firepower in Raul Jimenez, it’s unlikely to guide them to victory and we don’t like the price surrounding them unfortunately.
Roma are the biggest name in this competition we’re yet to mention, but following a run of five years where they finished either second or third in Serie A, they ended up in sixth last term as they’ve regressed.
Consistently selling top players like Miralem Pjanic, Mo Salah, Alisson Becker and Kostas Manolas in successive summers would take its toll on any team and although they’re a slightly improved fifth in the current campaign, this is a team that have struggled to regenerate quickly enough.
Much like with Inter they’ll be dangerous opponents, but it’s hard to rate their chances when Italian sides have largely neglected this tournament.
Porto are another big name and are normally regulars in the Champions League knockouts, featuring at that stage in three of the last four seasons before succumbing to top sides Juventus and Liverpool (twice) over two legs, so at first glance appear a huge price.
However, they’re not quite so strong this time around and started life this season in the Europa League, scrapping through a tight group against Feyenoord, Young Boys and Rangers, courtesy of a win over the former on matchday six.
Excluding those that dropped down to this level from the Champions League, only two teams that reached the knockouts this term scored fewer goals in the group stages than Porto’s eight.
Even when they last competed in the knockouts of this tournament back in 2015/16, the Dragons couldn’t make it past the Last 32 as they were comfortably beaten by Dortmund.
Another German side awaits in the knockouts this year as they face a tricky clash with Bayer Leverkusen, and it’s hard to see them lasting the distance.
Europe’s second-tier competition used to be more of an open field with winners from eight different countries across 11 seasons stretching from 1998/99 to 2008/09, but since being rebranded from the UEFA Cup to the Europa League the tournament has acquired greater prestige and attention from teams just outside the elite of European football.
As a result, there’s been a heavy domination by English (three wins) and Spanish sides (six) in the past 10 years, with La Liga and the Premier League undoubtedly the strongest leagues in Europe over this spell, as Porto back in 2010/11 proved the only exception.
Porto currently trail Benfica domestically by four points, but the Eagles couldn’t cut the mustard in the Champions League this term and finished third in the weakest group as they were pitted against RB Leipzig, Lyon and Zenit.
The last time they defeated quality opponents on the European stage over two legs came against Juventus back in 2013/14, and with last season’s run to the quarter-finals inspired largely by the breakout of the now departed Joao Felix, it’s easy to overlook them in the betting.
Red Bull Salzburg
An honourable mention must go out to Red Bull Salzburg, who have dropped down from the Champions League. The Austrian side caught a lot of headlines in the group stages, though that was almost entirely down to the goalscoring prowess of Erling Braut-Haaland, who has since made a splash at Borussia Dortmund.
Without the young Norwegian, as well as Japanese forward Takumi Minamino, we can’t see where the goals are going to come from for Salzburg and they seem far too short to consider.
Bayer Leverkusen have always proven tricky customers and despite going out at this stage last season, can still be counted on to cause some trouble.
They do however face very difficult Last 32 opponents in Porto and with a top-four battle to focus on in the Bundesliga, we highly doubt they’ll be prioritising this competition.
Given they haven’t progressed past the last 16 in either European tournaments since 2007/08, we’re struggling to see an argument as to why that won’t be the case again this year.
Last season’s semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt appear on the long side given their success last term. However, after a close battle for a Champions League spot in the Bundesliga that went down to the final day, Die Adler aren’t enjoying so much success this time around and they’re comfortably mid-table, a full 11 points adrift of fourth place.
It’s easy to see why last season’s performances haven’t been replicated with star trio up front Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic all opening new chapters in their careers over the summer.
Those three bagged a combined 57 goals and 25 assists between them last term, and whereas only Chelsea and Sevilla scored more than Frankfurt in this competition during that campaign, as many as nine have managed more this time around so far.
Getafe have demonstrated that they’re more than capable of holding their own in Europe and domestically in Spain.
They’ve proved last year’s fifth-place finish was no fluke and currently occupy third as they look to break the mould of the ‘Big Three’. Their tie with Ajax is the highlight of this round and truth be told, they look the more in-form side having won four on the bounce in La Liga.
If the Spaniards were to progress from that clash they’d be full of confidence and definitely one to keep an eye on at their long price.
Celtic And Rangers
Scottish sides Celtic and Rangers have done extremely well in reaching this stage, though with a League title in the balance it seems likely that they’ll be gunning to battle for that, with their hopes of success on this stage slim.
That won’t stop them having a good go of course, and while Celtic Park and Ibrox will undoubtedly be rocking when they host teams, it would be remarkable if that were to push them all the way to victory and we’re happy to overlook the Glaswegian duo.
Europa League Outright Betting Tips
With such an open field and some sides at a far too short a price, there’s some real value to be found here, even if it’s incredibly close to call.
Arsenal’s top-four ambitions this season died some time ago and Mikel Arteta, having assisted Pep Guardiola in the Champions League in his previous job, will know all too well the importance of getting back there.
Performances have improved in North London even if results have been hard to come by, and progression in this competition can be a core focus for them.
With inconsistency still an issue for the Gunners however, we’re going to be more reserved with a half point.
Ajax look the most dangerous side in the competition and although they are in more of a battle for the league than they would have hoped for, their run in the Champions League last year showed they can perform on the continental stage and they’re going to take some beating.
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