Six-time champions Sevilla are still on course to win the Europa League once again but there are plenty of other teams also in contention at this stage.
Who do Bettors Favor?
We’re halfway through the Europa League Knockout Play-Off rounds and our top-rated online sportsbooks are showing that six-time winners Sevilla are still the favorites to win the whole tournament, while Atalanta, West Ham United and Barcelona are all prominent in the betting, though Borussia Dortmund have dropped down the rankings after a poor first-leg performance.
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Navigating the Europa League Format
Before getting involved in the Europa League futures markets, it’s important to note that the format is a little more complicated than in the Champions League. The winners of each of the eight Europa League groups go through into the Round of 16, but the eight second-placed teams along with the eight teams that dropped down from the Champions League have to come through a two-legged playoff round.
That means teams such as West Ham, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco and Lyon, who won their groups, will have a short-term advantage over the likes of Atalanta, Sevilla, Barcelona and Napoli that will disappear when the final sixteen teams are decided.
The other factor to bear in mind is that not all teams will be approaching this competition in the same way. There are usually two distinct cohorts of teams in this tournament: top European clubs for whom the Europa League represents a consolation prize at best, and mid-ranking teams who are likely to take it a lot more seriously. The likes of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli are in the former category, while teams such as West Ham, Real Betis, Lyon and Atalanta are in the latter group.
Best Bet for the Europa League Winner
Barcelona’s recent troubles meant it was no surprise that they were eliminated from the Champions League at the Group Stage. Having improved to a degree since the fall, and with a successful transfer window behind them, they had the potential to dominate this competition but a tough draw against a resurgent Napoli, in which they could only tie the first leg makes them an unappealing pick.
Dortmund were among the favorites, given their draw against Rangers but they made such a mess of the first leg, losing 4-2, that they may not go any further, and how committed they will be for the second leg in Glasgow remains to be seen, with their Bundesliga efforts taking priority.
I picked Sevilla at the end of the Group Stage and although they are much shorter prices now, they still represent a strong bet. Their record is impeccable, having won this competition six times since 2006, and despite predictions that they would not be able to maintain their domestic challenge, they are hanging on in second place, suggesting that Julen Lopetegui can take them to the next level.
Things aren’t looking quite as rosy for my other December pick Atalanta. Like Sevilla, they won the first leg of their play-off tie, but only by a single goal and they now face a tough challenge away to Olympiakos. Of more significance is their dramatic and unexpected loss of form, which has seen them win only once in Serie A this year and which makes them a risky pick here.
If you want an alternative at longer odds, West Ham look an interesting proposition. Their form has wavered in the Premier League, but they are still in there fighting for a top-four spot and those battling qualities could take them far in this competition. Winning their Group also means they don’t have to negotiate a playoff game so they have an advantage at this stage.
Which Europa League Underdogs are Worth a Bet
This tournament can often produce some surprises and there are one or two contenders further down the list who could potentially get to the final and cause an upset.
Like Sevilla, Real Betis are also having an excellent season, but unlike their local rivals, they are flying under the radar. Considering they are only five points off Sevilla in the league table, it is surprising to see them rated at a much bigger price in the Winners’ market. They weathered a potentially tricky first leg in Saint Petersburg and will be strong favorites to go through via the home leg.
The other team to consider is French side Lyon. They won their Group in fine style, so have avoided the play-offs and importantly have rediscovered some form domestically, losing only once in their last seven, and managing a draw with PSG along the way. A kind draw would be welcomed, but at this point they should be a lower price and they look a good pick.