This season’s Europa League is about to hot up – next month sees the round of 32 begin. December’s draw has seen fans frantically checking the odds on UEFA Europa League 2019/20 from Paddy Power. With teams transferring from Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League, there are a number of tasty ties to look out for – not least the clash between Shakhtar Donetsk and Benfica, both of whom were knocked out at the group stage of the Champions League.
The favourites at this moment are Manchester United, who also face a Champions League drop-out in Club Brugge, but let’s take a look at some of the possible contenders for glory in Gdańsk.
Manchester United last tasted success in Europe in 2017, winning the Europa League final against Ajax. Since then, they’ve battled against the giants of the continent, before entering this season’s Europa League tournament. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side finished top of Group L, but face a tough tie against Brugge. The Belgian outfit came third in their Champions League group, which consisted of Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Galatasaray, but failed to win a single game.
Despite a win over their most bitter rivals Manchester City last month, the Red Devils’ league form is inconsistent. They find themselves five points behind Chelsea in the battle for fourth and could well put all their efforts into Europe in a bid for Champions League football next season.
The five-time winners of the UEFA Cup/Europa League are fancied for success again and with good reason – the Spanish club topped Group A, having won five of their six matches. They face Romanian outfit CFR Cluj in the round of 32, who finished as runner-up to Celtic in Group E.
Julen Lopetegui’s men are firing on all cylinders in Europe and will be depending on the attacking prowess of Munir in the knockout stages. The striker has netted five times in the tournament this season. Sevilla are having a decent domestic campaign too, and currently sit fourth in La Liga, level on points with Atlético Madrid.
Internazionale transferred to the Europa League after the group stages, having finished third to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Of course, they won’t take anything for granted but will be quietly confident ahead of their two-legged tie against the Bulgarian champions, Ludogorets. By no means the worst UEFA ranked club in the competition, Ludogorets have regularly competed in the second-tier of European football but finished bottom of their group last season.
Domestically, Inter are currently second in Serie A. But they will know it’s been a long time since they – or any Italian club – won a European title. It was 10 years ago, in fact, that Inter won the Champions League final. Antonio Conte tasted success as a player in European football, so will be looking to add to his honours with a maiden title as a manager this year.
Arsenal were one of the early favourites for the title, but their inconsistent form both domestically and in Europe has seen them slide down the pecking order ahead of the knockout stages. Despite finishing their group campaign with a defeat and a draw, the Gunners topped Group F and have been handed a tie against Olympiacos, who failed to make the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The North Londoners made last year’s Europa League all-English final and will hope that former midfielder Mikel Arteta is the man to turn around their fortunes and lead them to glory in Gdańsk. He guided the Gunners to victory against Manchester United on New Year’s Day and despite sitting tenth in the Premier League, the newly revitalised side won’t give up without a fight.