Europa League 2018/19
The draw for the group stage of the Europa League has taken place and the feeling is the tournament really begins in earnest from this point.
104 teams started out in the process as early as July and now 48 teams were drawn out of hat in the lavish surroundings of Monaco to determine who will face who in a bid to progress to the knockout rounds.
However, there’s a good chance the winner of the tournament is yet to enter the fray as the third place Champions League team from each group drop into the Europa League’s knockout stages after Christmas.
Yet, there are a host of big names entering the fray at the group stages this season – Chelsea, Arsenal, Sevilla, Lazio, AC Milan, Dynamo Kiev, and Fenerbahce to name but a few. All seven will be expected to progress and it would hardly be a shock if any of them won the tournament outright.
The British quartet of Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic and Rangers have drawn a mixed bag but for the two Premier League sides, progression should pose few issues.
Arsenal will face a tough trip to Portugal’s capital to face Sporting Lisbon but then have encounters with Azerbaijan’s FC Qarabag and Ukranian side Vorskla Poltava. Vorskla won the Ukrainian league title last season and may be stronger than people think, especially if Unai Emery continues Wenger’s old habit of playing the youngsters in the competition and could be one to watch in this season’s Europa League.
Chelsea have trips to Belarus, Greece and Hungary to contend with. However, PAOK Saloniki, BATE Borisov and Vidi have little pedigree between them and should see Chelsea comfortably progress.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are not a side to back in this seasons Europa League. The Gers have the group of death with Villarreal, Rapid Vienna and Spartak Moscow to face in the group stages. Rangers are still finding their feet and against heavyweight Spanish, Russian and Austrian opponents, do not expect much from the Glaswegians.
Celtic will meet Rosenborg for the second time this season after facing the Danes in the Champions League and games against Salzburg and German side RB Leipzig makes backing both Scottish sides to go out early worth a look.
Away from the heavy hitters and the home nations favourites, Bayer Leverkusen finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season and have proved they have plenty of European might.
They won this tournament in 1988 and also famously ended the 2001/02 Champions League as runners-up. With some talented youngsters in their side such as Brazil U20 player Paulinho, Leverkusen could be set for a European resurgence.
RB Leipzig are also a side to watch out for. Backed by energy drinks giant Red Bull, the German side gate-crashed German football two seasons ago and nearly won the title, making them worthy opponents in this seasons Europa League.
But it can’t be forgotten that the overall Europa League winner is currently in the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are the current holders and much depends on how the group stages in that competition pan out.