While the Europa League might not have the prestige and glamour of the Champions League, it has a claim to being one of European football’s most compelling club competitions. The format of the competition, which sees teams drop down from the Champions League, makes it notoriously difficult to predict.
Last season saw Villarreal lift the trophy after beating Manchester United in a dramatic penalty shootout in the final. With Unai Emery’s team hopeful of making the last 16 of the Champions League, it’s likely a new Europa League winner will be crowned in 2022. With that in mind, The AllStar takes a close look at who betting markets currently favor.
West Ham, Napoli
Priced at 8.00/+700, West Ham United are currently the joint-favourites to go all the way. David Moyes’ side has started well: They currently lead Group H with three wins and a draw from four fixtures. There is a good balance to the Hammers who could even finish in the Premier League’s top four this season.
In terms of attacking threat, though, Napoli (also 8.00/+700) could be the most dangerous team in the 2021/22 Europa League. Luciano Spalletti’s side are averaging 22.3 shots per match, more than any other side in the competition. The team boasts Victor Osimhen, one of the most exciting young forwards in the sport. The Nigerian has four goals in three appearances this season.
Lyon (11.0/+1000) are currently the competition’s top scorers with 12 goals in four outings. The Ligue 1 club underwent something of a transition since they made the Champions League semi finals two seasons ago. They now possess one of the most potent attacking units around, with Moussa Dembele in front of Houssem Aouar, Karl Toko Ekambi and Xherdan Shaqiri. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Leicester City’s (14.0/+1300) quality and pedigree means they can’t be discounted, but Brendan Rodgers’ side have struggled for consistency this season. The likes of Patson Daka, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy are capable of blowing away most opponents on their day even if the Foxes’ defence has been somewhat vulnerable recently.
Despite their struggles, Leicester City boast one of the highest average shares of possession (61.7%) in this season’s Europa League. The King Power Stadium outfit have yet to keep a clean sheet in the competition so far, though. This has to change if they are to get anywhere close to winning the whole thing.
Florian Wirtz: Leverkusen’s Edge?
Bayer Leverkusen (14.0/+1300) also have their sights set on continental glory. Their emerging teenage talent Florian Wirtz has the potential to be one of the greatest players of his generation. The Bundesliga outfit also have Euro 2020 hero Patrik Schik to lead the line and give their attack purpose.
Real Sociedad (14.0/+1300) could grow into the competition, even though the Spanish side have won just one of four group fixtures so far. La Real currently sits at the top of La Liga and it might not be long until their domestic form translates into the Europa League. They certainly have the quality to make a deep run.
In Alexander Isak, Real Sociedad boasts an exciting young forward who has two goals in three Europa League appearances. Behind the Swede, Mikel Oyarzabal, a first team regular for the Spanish national team, offers guile and creativity. Former Manchester City midfielder David Silva pulls the strings as the playmaker.
Lazio (18/+1700) are Italy’s second-best chance of winning after Napoli, although Maurizio Sarri’s side still have work to do to make the round of 32. They’ve won just one of their first four group stage fixtures. Nonetheless, players like Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic give them a chance of making an impact.
Of course, the teams that drop down from the Champions League for the round of 32 can reshape the Europa League. As things stand, Atletico Madrid, Sporting CP, Benfica, Atalanta and Zenit St Petersburg, among others, would enter the competition. All would stand a good chance of clinching the consolation prize.
Champions League qualification is a carrot that dangles in front of the nose of every team targeting the Europa League. This season, Leicester City and West Ham might not be guaranteed Champions League qualification through their domestic league. This could be something that gives them an edge.