This Thursday sees the start of the most competitive and intriguing stage of the UEFA Europa League, the second-tier European competition for teams that just missed out on Champions League qualification domestically, or had the good fortune to win a domestic cup competition.
There’s four times the amount of games played on a Thursday in the Europa League, (32 matches usually, compared to the eight games played on each Tuesday and Wednesday in the Champions League) which means that this is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy some outstanding sports betting in the week.
Although Bet365’s Euro Soccer Bonus isn’t available on Europa League matches, their Bore Draw Money Back offer certainly is, as is their Each Way First Goalscorer options. Remember too that Coral also offer a massive choice of betting markets on the Europa League, with many promotional offers likely on matches taking place in each of the game weeks of the group stage.
The Europa League is a competition steeped in history and it has had a lengthy and unusual past as we will discover.
The Europa League explained
The UEFA Europa League is the new name of the tournament that was founded back in 1971 called the UEFA Cup. This in turn was a tournament that replaced what was named the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and this ran from 1955 to 1971.
In 1971, European football was starting to gain increasing importance in Europe and UEFA rebranded the tournament as the UEFA Cup. After UEFA decided to rebrand and reorganise their European competitions, the old Cup Winners Cup was removed and a new Europa League came in to replace the UEFA Cup.
The most successful club in the history of the tournament is Sevilla, who have won the title on five occasions. Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool have each won it on three occasions. Sevilla won the Europa League back to back on three occasions in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The Europa League is unique in that it is a tournament that sees a fresh injection of new teams once the Group Stage has been completed. Once the 24 qualifiers from the Group Stage of the Europa League are known, these teams are joined by the eight third placed teams from the Group Stages of the Champions League.
These 32 teams then contest a two-legged knockout competition after Christmas until only two teams remain to contest the final at a neutral venue in Europe (unless the home team is lucky enough to reach the final).
The 2017-2018 Europa League Group Stage
The table below outlines each of the 12 different groups in the tournament, complete with the four teams in each competing for the two places available in the knockout stage:
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D||Group E||Group F|
|Villarreal||Dynamo Kiev||Braga||Milan||Atalanta||FC Copenhagen|
|Maccabi Tel Aviv||Young Boys||Ludogorets Razgrad||Austria Vienna||Everton||Lokomotiv Moscow|
|FK Astana||Partizan Belgrade||1899 Hoffenheim||Rijeka||Lyon||Fastav Zlin|
|Slavia Prague||Skenderbeu Korce||Istanbul Basaksehir||AEK Athens||Apollon Limassol||Sheriff Tiraspol|
|Group G||Group H||Group I||Group J||Group J||Group L|
|Viktoria Plzen||Arsenal||Red Bull Salzburg||Athletic Bilbao||Lazio||Zenit St Petersburg|
|Steaua Bucharest||BATE Borisov||Marseille||Hertha Berlin||Nice||Real Sociedad|
|Hapoeil Beer’Sheva||1FC Koln||Vitoria Guimares||Zorya Luhansk||Zuite Waregem||Rosenborg|
|Lugano||Red Star Belgrade||Konyaspor||Ostersund||Vitesse Arnheim||Vardar Skopje|
The top two teams in each group will qualify for the knockout phase of the tournament which begins in early 2018. These 24 teams will be joined by the eight teams from the Champions League who finished in third position in their group during the group stages.
These 32 teams are then drawn to face each other in a two-legged knockout round and the competition then progresses from there in a similar vein until the final two teams remain to contest the final, which will be held in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon, France on the 16th May 2018.
Who will be the stars of the Europa League 2017-2018?
Although there are some top teams in the Europa League at present, things should certainly get more interesting after the group stage when 8 Champions League teams drop into the competition and this injects some additional quality to the teams already there.
AC Milan and Arsenal are two teams who have massive European history and are both more used to playing in the Champions League than the European competition. Unsurprisingly, these two teams are the clear favourites at present for the trophy, although that can change drastically when the Champions League teams enter the fray in the New Year.
Other teams that should do well in the tournament are Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal from Spain, France pair Marseille and Lyon (whose ground the final will be played on) as well as the UK’s only other representative in the tournament at present Everton. Lazio and Zenit St Petersburg, from Italy and Russia respectively, will also provide a stern test for most teams in the tournament now.
If you are looking for a good outside team to do well in the tournament as several have done in past years, then a good option could be the French side Nice who finished 3rd in the table last year well clear of Lyon and Marseille. Atalanta have a talented but young side and they could surprise a few teams in the tournament while Real Sociedad have got off to a great start this season in La Liga and could well push deep into the knockout stages.
Who should I back to win the Europa League?
I am always a little loathe to back teams to win a competition when I am not sure who all the competitors are and at this stage of the Europa League, you can’t know that. However, that said if I was going to place a bet I would certainly make it an each way option and I’d certainly be looking for some big value bets.
What I’d look for is a team that can beat the best the Champions League has to offer on their day and who are longer odds, for me that makes either Lazio (who are a 40/1 chance with Bet365) or Real Sociedad (a 50/1 chance with Bet365) the best each way value here.
I’d then revisit the To Win Outright market in the new year once the final 32 teams in the knockout phase are known to pick my winner.