The secondary tier of competition in Europe gets underway in September, and there are a host of considerable clubs in contention to win the competition, and that’s even before those sides that finish third in their Champions League groups enter the fray after Christmas. It is shaping up to be one of the best Europa League campaigns in recent memory, and one that at least five sides will believe they will have a chance of winning.
The enticement that comes with winning the Europa League has undoubtedly increased over recent seasons, with the winning side guaranteeing a place in the following seasons Champions League as a top seed. Last year’s final was an all-English affair with Chelsea eventually seeing off their London rivals Arsenal 4-1 in Baku. But, which sides will be hopeful of emulating that success in 2019-20?
The Red Devils return to the Europa League this season after falling to finish in the top four last season. The club achieved success in this competition in Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club when they saw off Ajax in Stockholm. However, since then it could be argued that the club have moved back to the start of their transition into a major European side. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reins following the departure of Mourinho but was unable to steer the club into the top four following a dismal end to the season. There were bright spots throughout his early reign, however, as Solskjaer guided the Red Devils to a famous win in Paris over PSG.
It has been a summer of change at the club with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez both departing the club, and Solskjaer keen to implement a fresh approach of youthful energy around his team. Harry Maguire was brought in to amend defensive issues, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James are also improvements of what the squad possessed. United are rightly the favourites to win the competition as their peak level is far superior to what other clubs in the competition can reach.
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STS Odds: 5/1
The early season favourites are dominated by Premier League sides, and last season’s runners up are the second favourites to go one better this season. Unai Emery has a remarkable record in this competition having won it on three occasions during his time with Sevilla. The Gunners could use the competition as a fallback option to get into next season’s Champions League, but unlike United, their squad depth wouldn’t be able to cope battling on two fronts so it may be a matter of prioritising later on in the season which target Emery would prefer.
There is no doubting the quality that they have in the forward positions with the front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe having the potential to become one of the most revered forward lines in Europe. Defensive however they are still light, and although they managed to sign Kieran Tierney and David Luiz from Celtic and Chelsea respectively, there are still major concerns that their defence could hold off the best teams in this competition. They will certainly make it through the group stages, but the later rounds could be more tricky for the Gunners to navigate.
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photo: Juanlu Fajardo / Shutterstock.com
The Spanish side has enjoyed an excellent record in the Europa League, as no other football club can claim to have won more competition. Furthermore, all of their five triumphs have come in the last 15 years, and that includes winning three Europa League titles on the bounce between 2014 and 2016. The manager during this era was Unai Emery, who was unable to guide the club past the group stages of the Champions League before his departure to PSG. Last season Sevilla would have been disappointed with their efforts in this competition as they were knocked out at the Last 16 stage by Slavia Prague, but domestically they once again proved they are an excellent cup team.
They reached the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey before being beaten by Barcelona, and will undoubtedly be a team that their opponents will be looking to avoid in the Europa League. They are now managed by the ex-Real Madrid, and Spain manager Julen Lopetegui and have acquired a lot of talent over the summer months. The most notable arrivals include Luuk de Jong, Oliver Torres and Rony Lopes, but whether they will be able to continue their excellent goals return will depend on whether they have managed to replace Wissam Ben Yedder and Pablo Sarabia. However, they will remain a threat in this competition.
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The team that rounds off the favourites for the competition is Wolverhampton Wanderers, and just two years ago this would have seemed an improbable scenario. The side from the West Midlands were only celebrating their first season back in the Premier League last year, but they are unlike any other newly promoted side that the top-flight in England has seen. They are managed by ex-Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo and aided by the links of Jorge Mendes they have been able to assemble a team that has as much quality as you would expect from a team in the top-four of the Premier League. Their best player is Ruben Neves, who remains the record holder for the youngest player to captain a team in the Champions League. Meanwhile, they boast international pedigree in Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio and Raul Jiminez.
Wolves have an excellent record against the better teams’ in the Premier League, but their Achilles heel has been against the smaller teams. In fact, if it wasn’t for their record against teams like Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United last season, then they could have possibly mounted a stern test for the top four. Their counter-attacking prowess is brilliant, but they are stuck for ideas when they have the possession and have to force the issue. If they are involved when it comes to the later rounds, then they could have a serious chance of causing an upset, and that’s why many people are picking them as a potential dark horse to win the Europa League.
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