The Europa League often gets overlooked in favour of its more prestigious older brother in the Champions League. But, the secondary competition in Europe has been full of quality over the past couple of years, and the more prestigious clubs are slowly starting to take the competition more seriously.
That was evident in last season’s competition as Chelsea and Arsenal met in the final in Baku. However, it was to be a disappointing occasion for the Gunners as Unai Emery couldn’t extend his excellent record as they lost 4-1 to an Eden Hazard-inspired Blues.
The Gunners are back in the competition this season and will face tough competition if they are to make it through to the final in Gdansk. Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sevilla will all be looking to leave their mark, while the new era of AS Roma could utilise the competition as a way to resurrect the once-famous club. The draw was made in Monaco, and here are the groups that the teams will have to navigate their way through.
Group A- Sevilla, APOEL, Qarabag, Dudelange
The all-time record-holders Sevilla would have been thrilled with their group for this season’s Europa League. The Spanish giants have been handed a straightforward group that they would be expected to progress from, but Julen Lopetegui may be concerned with the distances that his side will have to travel.
APOEL have been in the Champions League over the past couple of seasons but were dumped out in the qualifiers by Ajax. It will be a repeat of the second qualifying round also between APOEL and Qarabag, as the two sides played out an aggregate 3-3 draw, with the Cypriot side going through on away goals.
Meanwhile, Dudelange remains an unknown quantity after doing exceptionally well to make the group stages following a playoff victory over Avan Academy. However, the team from Luxembourg could likely be the beating boys in this group.
Group B- Dynamo Kyiv, FC Copenhagen, Malmo, FC Lugano
One of the more open groups is Group B, where all four teams may fancy their chances of progressing through to the next round of the competition.
Swedish side Malmo have now qualified for a European competition in four of the last six seasons, which is a remarkable achievement considering that they don’t have nearly as big of a budget as most of the other sides in the competition. Dynamo Kyiv are the top seeds and should top the group, but the battle between FC Copenhagen and Malmo will be fascinating.
Group C- FC Basel, FC Krasnodar, Getafe, Trabzonspor
La Liga side Getafe and Basel would have been hoping for games closer to home, but instead, they will need to travel to Turkey and Russia in the group stages. Krasnodar would have been disappointed to drop into the Europa League after inflicting a shock defeat on FC Porto in the earlier rounds of the Champions League.
Meanwhile, Trabzonspor would have been counting their blessings that they have got to this stage after a 2-0 defeat in Turkey against AEK in the final qualifying round. However, whether either of these sides can match the quality of Basel and Getafe remains to be seen.
Group D- Sporting Lisbon, PSV, Rosenborg, LASK
Sporting Lisbon are many people’s dark horses for the competition this year after managing to keep hold of Bruno Fernandes. However, they will face a stern test in Group D, with PSV likely to be their biggest challengers for the top spot.
The Dutch side were in the Champions League last season and achieved success against Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur at that stage. Rosenborg could also be a tricky opponent, while LASK demonstrated their European pedigree by beating Basel in the qualification rounds of the Champions League.
Group E- Lazio, Celtic, Rennes, CFR Cluj
The toughest group of the lot will see Celtic try and make it out of the group of death. Cluj have had Champions League experience over recent seasons, while Rennes look to be back on the comeback trail in Ligue 1.
Meanwhile, Lazio enjoyed a fine season last time out and will be looking at the Europa League as a potential route into the Champions League in 2020-21. This could be a group where away form will be crucial in which side progresses.
Group F- Arsenal, Eintracht Frankfurt, Standard Liege, Vitoria SC
Last season’s beaten finalists, and semi-finalists will both come head to head in Group F. Arsenal will be hoping that their position in the Premier League table will see them qualify for the Champions League next season, but a strong Europa League campaign will be a solid fallback option.
Frankfurt have lost Sebastien Haller and Luka Jovic over the summer months, but they will still feel confident of getting out of this group. Standard Liege and Vitoria both present difficult away trips, but the quality of the English and German sides should be too much.
Group G- Porto, Young Boys, Feyenoord, Rangers
Porto would have been hoping for an easier group than this, but they could at least be happy that they avoided all of the eastern European sides. Rangers were possibly the most difficult team in pot four, and a visit to Ibrox will undoubtedly make for a hostile environment.
Young Boys have been in the Champions League over the past couple of seasons and have European pedigree, while Feyenoord will have a technically gifted side that is expected by a Dutch outfit. Porto endured embarrassment in the Champions League qualification round, and a success in this competition would be the perfect remedy.
Group H- CSKA Moscow, Ludogorets, Espanyol, Ferencvaros
La Liga side Espanyol will be the favourites to get out of this group, but the race for second could be intriguing. CSKA’s home form will be crucial in their progression, while Ferencvaros have done excellently to get to this stage.
Ludogorets could be the dark horse to qualify in second from this group after seeing off Maribor in the qualification. Their home form will be crucial if they have hopes of qualifying to the next round.
Group I- Wolfsburg, Gent, Saint-Ettiene, Olexandriya
The unknown quantity of Olexandriya could prove to be a tricky assignment for the bigger teams in this group after the Ukrainian side qualified automatically having won the domestic league title last season. Saint-Ettiene and Wolfsburg will be many people’s favourites to qualify from this group, but Gent could push them hard.
Group J- AS Roma, Monchengladbach, Istanbul Basaksehir, Wolfsberger
Serie A giants AS Roma would have been pleased with their group, with only travel distance to Istanbul being a concern. Monchengladbach enjoyed an excellent season in the Bundesliga last season, and if they can transfer that into European form, then they could be a tough nut to crack in this seasons Europa League.
Group K- Besiktas, Braga, Wolves, Slovan Bratislava
All eyes were on the ball for Wolverhampton Wanderers when the teams from pot three were coming out. They are the unknown quantity in this season’s competition and could be a dark horse to win the entire competition due to their form against the top-six in the Premier League.
Besiktas wouldn’t have been an ideal opponent for them with the Turkish side having a fine home record in European football. Braga will be a tricky assignment also but would be a welcome return to Portugal for much of the Wolves squad. Slovan meanwhile have got the short straw in this group and will likely be easily beaten.
Group L- Manchester United, Astana, Partizan, AZ Alkmaar
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been pleased on the whole with the Red Devils group for the Europa League but would be somewhat concerned with the travel distances.
The one specific stand out would be Astana. AZ have a lot of technical players, and if they maintain away from then, they could be an outsider to progress from this group. Partizan could also be a tricky away game for all the sides with Serbian fans likely to make for a hostile atmosphere. But, United should progress.