The Europa League group stage gets underway on the Thursday night and Jake Osgathorpe looks at the line-up, selecting a few outright bets.
1.5pt e.w. Lazio to win the Europa League at 20/1 (Bet365, Sky Bet 1/2 1,2)
1pt e.w. Monaco to win the Europa League at 40/1 (BetVictor 1/2 1,2)
Ah the Europa League. A cracking and complicated competition, especially when trying to decipher who will lift the trophy.
This season it gets even more complicated with major changes, as with the introduction of the Europa Conference League, the number of teams in the group stage has been reduced from 48 to 32.
The biggest change to the format comes after the group stage, and it is definitely something to bear in mind when selecting your team to back; the winners of each Europa League group progress DIRECTLY to the round of 16.
Group runners-up will have to play two extra games in a knockout round play-off (previously the round of 32), with the eight runners-up and the eight third placed teams from the Champions League playing off for the right to make the round of 16.
Odds correct as of 16:15 (07/09/21)
That means winning the group gives teams two advantages: they progress to the last 16 and they also have two free midweeks (knockout round play-off legs played on 17th and 24th February), which could be crucial to fitness in another congested season.
So motivation to top the group is higher than usual, so expect the big hitters to take things very seriously from the get-go.
As always, the Europa League field is made up of some of Europe’s big names, and a few emerging ones. While group winners have an advantage, there is still a chance that some high-class Champions League teams drop into the competition.
Lets focus on those teams for a minute then.
It is difficult to predict which eight teams will finish third in their UCL groups, and so there are no prices available for any Champions League team winning the Europa League.
But, while there have been a fair few winners of the competition who have come through the top competition, it isn’t as many as you would think.
Since 1998, when a single match final was introduced, eight of the 24 winners of the UEFA Cup/Europa League have come from the Champions League, and 21 of the 48 finalists in that time have dropped down from Europe’s premier competition.
That equates to 33% of winners and 44% of finalists starting the season in the UCL. This means that, based on historical precedence, it is likely that the final will comprise of one team from the Champions League.
So, being sensible with stakes at this stage is a wise move, as the playing field can change drastically post-Christmas.
Generally, Italian side Napoli are at the head of the betting to win the competition, followed by Leicester, with both best priced around the 14/1 mark.
Spanish side Real Sociedad and West Ham come next, both priced around 16/1, but our first selection is a touch bigger at 20/1, and that is Maurizio Sarri’s LAZIO.
Lazio have kept their squad together for some time now, they have Italian Euro 2020 winning striker Ciro Immobile leading them, and he is the best striker in the Europa League at the time of writing.
Sergej Milinković-Savić is still at the club, as is Luis Alberto, while former Barcelona and Chelsea winger Pedro is back fit after a serious injury.
All in all, Lazio have an excellent squad, one that pushed Juventus hard a few seasons ago in Serie A, and to make matters better, they have arguably seen an upgrade in the dugout.
Simone Inzaghi left to join champions Inter Milan, but Maurizio Sarri – who won the Europa League with Chelsea in 2019 and the Serie A title with Juventus in 2020 – is a stellar coach.
What he managed to do at Napoli was nothing short of miraculous, making them a must-watch side while also getting excellent results.
We can’t judge him harshly for his time at Chelsea, where he tried to quickly implement his style, or at Juventus, where he had to deal with some of football’s biggest egos and a club who were accustomed to winning silverware.
Lazio are the perfect club for Sarri, and have the perfect players for him to work his magic in his famed 4-3-3 system. I think they are the best team in the competition at this stage, better than Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli and Leicester – who I have not been impressed with so far this season.
Importantly, Lazio are in a winnable group along with Marseille, Lokomotiv Moscow and Galatasaray, which would give them a huge leg up by qualifying straight to the round of 16.
This all means LAZIO TO WIN THE EUROPA LEAGUE is the first selection in this preview.
Like Lazio, Bayer Leverkusen are priced at around 20/1, and are followed generally by Eintracht Frankfurt and Lyon at 25/1, then come Real Betis at 35/1.
MONACO are best priced 40/1, and that appeals.
As discussed in my Ligue 1 outright preview, I think Monaco could well prove to be the second-best team in France this season, and despite a slow start, they can kick on post-international break.
Their underlying numbers last season were excellent, and despite a few poor results at the start of this term, their process continues to be very strong.
Nico Kovac has kept his squad intact, and will likely attempt to go far in this competition given the quality he has at his disposal.
In a group with Real Sociedad, PSV and Sturm Graz, they face a tough test, but I would still make them favourites to win that group, being the best side among those four.
Backing MONACO TO WIN THE EUROPA LEAGUE at 40/1 each-way looks a solid investment, with 1/2 the odds should they get to the final and lose.
Marseille, led by Jorge Sampaoli, nearly featured in the staking plan at 50/1, but their defensive frailties would likely be their downfall if they did get deep in the competition.
Scrolling down the list, it is difficult to make a case for any big priced teams, with the Turkish giants Fenerbache and Galatasaray not the teams of yesteryear at 100/1.
Scottish pair Rangers (best price 50/1) and Celtic (66/1) have a tough task if they are to win this competition, with both in difficult groups.
So sticking with a two-pronged approach with Lazio and Monaco will do me at this stage, and a potential revisit of our selections and possible added selections could take place post Champions League group stage.
Odds correct at 1645 BST (07/09/21)
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