The Europa League group stage is over, and we are now headed into the business end of the competition. The twenty-four qualifying teams will be joined by the eight teams that finished third in their UEFA Champions League groups, making a total of thirty-two teams. The draws for the knockout stage will be held on the 14th of December, while the knockout stage will commence on the 18th of February, 2021.
The Europa League is often overlooked, but it is crucial for many teams, not just for the prize money but for the automatic qualification to the Champions League. The team that lifts the trophy at the end gets an automatic Champions League spot and an opportunity at another title, facing the Champions League winners for the Super Cup.
Here are the top 5 teams expected to make a deep run in the competition and possibly win it all.
Mikel Arteta’s side edges out a lot of other good teams like the young, well-coached Ajax side that got relegated to the Europa League and a Rangers team that is still unbeaten in all competitions so far this season. Still, I feel they have enough in them to make a deep run. They have been dominant in the group stage, winning every single game (the only team to achieve that this season), and while they have not faced premium competition, they have not played at full strength either. Arsenal has been far from their best in the English Premier League, making this their best path to a Champions League Qualification, and that would be an extra motivation.
4. AS. ROMA
Roma is another team that finished top of their group, and while they weren’t perfect, they have a next gear they can easily get to and will get to when the knockout stages come along. Their front three of Pedro, Dzeko, and Mkhitaryan is going to be a worry for defenders.
3. AC. MILAN
Milan is a team that is slowly getting itself back to its former status as one of the top European teams, and winning the Europa league will help that push. They have a strong defensive unit; Theo Hernandez, the scoring left-back stands out, an underestimated midfield with Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu both being very impactful and 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to defy science.
2. MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United dropped to the Europa League after failing to qualify from the Champions League’s group stages. So why are they favorites? While everybody knows that United struggled to be consistent, they did beat PSG and put five goals past RB Leipzig in their first two Champions League games. In Bruno Fernandez, they have a player who can single-handedly change the outcome of a game and was also the top scorer in the Europa League last year. Marcus Rashford is always one to keep an eye on, and they will be facing teams that they are better than on paper in the first few rounds. The question with United is, which United will show up? If the team that blazed to a top 4 photo finish in the Premier last season shows up, then beware.
Jose Mourinho may be the greatest manager we have ever seen, and it is because he has the ability to find ways to win trophies where ever he has been. Coupled with the way Harry Kane and Son Heung Min have been playing, they are the clear favorites. Now Spurs have by no means been perfect, they needed a win on the last day to finish top of their group, but when the going gets tough, and Jose decides to field the big boys, they’ll be a difficult team to stop. So, Spurs fans, the wait may be over soon.