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The Europa League has been won for the last three years by record-breaking Sevilla, but once again this season they will take their place in the Champions League at the start of the competition. They dropped out of Europe’s elite tournament last term to drop back into the Europa, but will surely hope to do better this year and reach the knockout stages.
Because of that format that allows third-placed group teams from the Champions League to join the Europa at the knockout stage, this competition can be difficult to place season-long bets on, but one team stands out at this very early stage. Manchester United, usually a mainstay of the Champions League, failed to qualify after a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League, and they will begin their Europa campaign at the group stage.
With Jose Mourinho at the helm and a raft of new signings, including the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a new era beckons at Old Trafford. This is shaping up to be a season where they become a force again both domestically and on a European front, and a punt on the Red Devils to win this trophy makes plenty of appeal.
The Europa League has often been considered a secondary competition by English clubs – as Spurs demonstrated last season when they fielded weakened teams to concentrate on their title challenge. However, that could be changing with the introduction of a Champions League place to the winner, and all of a sudden the Europa League has more appeal to be taken seriously. Liverpool did just that last season as Jurgen Klopp took them to the final, but they were overcome in Basel by Europa specialists, Sevilla.
Spain has been responsible for seven winners in the last eleven years of Europa League football, and with the country’s successes in the Champions League, the Spanish can stake a strong claim to being the best league in Europe. Sevilla won the competition in 2006 and 2007, while Atletico Madrid helped themselves to two trophies 2010 and 2012. As we know Sevilla then took the title in a record-breaking spell of domination over 2014, 2015 and 2016. The four sides to wrestle the Europa League away from Spain over that period were Zenit St Petersburg (2008), Shakhtar Donestsk (2009), Porto (2011), and Chelsea (2013).
The Big Teams Involved
Next in the betting come Inter Milan at 20/1 21.00 +2000 20.00 20.00 -0.05 and Athletic Bilbao and Fiorentina at 25/1 26.00 +2500 25.00 25.00 -0.04 .
The other English sides in the competition are Southampton and West Ham, currently priced at 25/1 26.00 +2500 25.00 25.00 -0.04 and 49/1 50.00 +4900 49.00 49.00 -0.02 respectively.
The Spanish league will also be represented by Celta Vigo, while the likes of Schalke, Zenit St Petersburg and Besiktas are among the other leading contenders.
None of those sides have anything like the quality available at Old Trafford, and if Jose Mourinho takes this competition seriously, which one suspects he will, they hold a great chance. The emergence of Marcus Rashford was one of the biggest bright spots for the Red Devils last season, but the capture of Ibrahimovic and the presence of Wayne Rooney could well limit his chances. He is arguably more likely to find playing time in this competition – particularly in the early stages – and that bodes well for United.
Having been regular contenders in the Champions League over the years, they are also unlikely to be overawed by any teams that drop out of the elite competition at a later stage. If they reach the knockout stages, and they surely will, then Mourinho will be expected to field strong teams, and in general the further sides progress in the tournament the more seriously they tend to take it. Spurs were an exception last season, but that is probably understandable considering they had a fair chance of snatching a first ever Premier League.
If United are challenging for the title when we get to March/April next year, that could take the focus away from this competition, but they have a strong enough squad to cope with the demands and the prize of Champions League football makes it a trophy worth winning.
Manchester United to Win the Europa League
Odds: 9/1 10.00 +900 9.00 9.00 -0.11
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