The UEFA Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, has run annually since 1971 and is now one of the most fiercely fought competitions in Europe, not least because the eventual champion qualifies for both the UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
A total of 27 different teams have won the Europa League since its creation, and 12 of those clubs have won the tournament on more than one occasion, with Spain’s Sevilla being the most successful club in Europa League history with five titles, including winning the past three editions of the competition.
Luckily for those competing in the 2016/17 Europa League, Sevilla progressed to the group stage of the Champions League so they won’t be winning four titles in a row, leaving the trophy up for grabs for everyone else. Who will be crowned the Europa League champions this season?
Manchester United: +500 to win the Europa League
Manchester United have won the Champions League three times (once as the European Cup), the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup, and the European Super Cup, but they have never got their hands on the Europa Cup. Bookmakers believe that last fact will change this season.
United are +500 to lift the Europa League trophy this season with the next closest being Russian outfit Zenit St. Petersburg on +1400. It should be no surprise that United are favourites to win their group, Group A, with odds of -335 with Feyenoord on +375.
Long gone are the days when United rolled over any team that stood in their way, the term “a team in transition” is now used when referring to the Red Devils. That said, on paper at least, United are the best team in the Europa League this season and should go far in the competition.
In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United have a vastly experienced forward. The Swede, who has struggled for form since a blistering start of the current campaign, has played 129 games in European competitions and scored 52 goals. If United get Ibrahimovic scoring freely again they should go all the way and win the 2016/17 Europa League.
AS Roma: +1600 to win the Europa League
AS Roma have never triumphed in a European competition, but are currently +1600 joint third favourites to win this year’s Europa League.
The Gialorissi have started their domestic campaign in fine form and find themselves in second place in Serie A, four points behind the mighty Juventus. Although they are on top of Group E (on goal difference), Roma have only won one of their three games, a 4-0 demolition of lowly Astra Giurgiu, and drawn two including a thrilling 3-3 home draw against Austria Vienna.
Standing between Roma and European glory is their away form. In the league, Roma have won all five games at the Stadio Olimpico, but have won, drawn, and lost two of their six away games. And their only away tie in the Europa League was a 1-1 draw with Viktoria Plzen.
Roma probably won’t win the Europa League and will need a kind draw in the knockout rounds to progress in the latter stages of the competition. They need to keep 40-year-old veteran Francesco Totti fit and playing; the legend has played more than 600 games for Roma and is their all-time leading goal scorer with 250 goals since 1992.
Roma should make the quarterfinals but don’t have enough pedigree to win it all.
Schalke 04: +1800 to win the Europa League
Some teams struggle in their domestic leagues but excel in cup competitions, often using them as a welcomed distraction. Germany’s Schalke 04 look to be one of those teams this season.
Schalke 04 are in 12th in the Bundesliga (from 18 teams), having started their first nine games with a poor record of two wins, two draws and five losses. They’ve scored 10 goals, while conceding 11 and have failed to score in four matches.
In the Europa League, however, Schalke 04 are a different beast. Three consecutive victories have propelled Schalke 04 to the top of Group I, making them overwhelming -600 favorites to progress from the group as winners.
Nabil Bentaleb is capable of scoring plenty of goals from midfield (he has three goals in eight league games) while Franco Di Santo and the aging Klass-Jan Huntelaar are a handful up front.
Let’s not forget that Schalke 04 won the UEFA Cup in the 1996/97 season when they beat Inter Milan in the final 4-1 on penalties, and based on their early form in the group stages, could well be adding a second title to their record 10 years on.
Avoid Backing These Teams
Personally, I’d steer well clear of inter Milan despite them being available to bet on at +2500. Inter are struggling for form this season and are languishing 12th in Serie A. Bottom or Group K in the Europa League, Inter may not even progress to the knockout stages. Oh, and they have just sacked manager Frank de Boer.
Don’t be lured in by Villarreal just because Spanish teams have a superb record in this competition. They may be on top of Group L right now, but struggled to beat FC Zurich and drew with both Steaua Bucharest and Osmanlispor; their +1800 odds of glory are far too short to be tempting. Villarreal lack the firepower to punish teams and that lack of goals will ultimately cost them dearly in the knockout stages.