With just one group game to go, the Europa League prepares for the knockout stages and makes way for the Champions League rejects. So far, it’s been smooth sailing for teams like Arsenal, Lazio, and AC Milan, but the competition is about to get a lot tougher when Atlético Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, and the rest of the UCL also-rans are thrown into the mix.
For now, the Europa League favorites are comfortably making their way through their respective groups. Here’s a look at where they stand according to Bet365 and which team is offering bettors the best value at the moment.
Arsene Wenger has done a fine job navigating the Gunners through the Europa League group stage. At the moment, the manager is more concerned with domestic affairs and has done just enough to position Arsenal for the knockout stages. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Gunners started the season much like how they ended the last one — terribly. But the last few weeks have seen them back in form and looking like a top-four Premier League club once again. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are back to their usual selves and Alexandre Lacazette has been a nice addition to the Arsenal attack.
They’re currently the favorites to win the Europa League, but I’d be a little hesitant to pick them. Both Sanchez and Ozil are holding off on re-signing and we shouldn’t be surprised if they jump ship in January. Losing both would leave the squad absolutely gutted.
The entire Italian top flight is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and Lazio’s performance at Europa is a testament to its renewed competitiveness. They remain unbeaten in their group stage matches, which includes two impressive wins over Nice.
Domestically, they’re doing well, but not well enough to challenge the title. The most they can hope for at this point is a Champions League spot. And even then, that’s going to be difficult given the quality of Serie A at the moment. Their best bet may be to go all in for the Europa League title, which would guarantee a berth in the 2018-19 Champions League.
AC Milan: 12/1
Milan deserve credit for being unbeaten in their group, but just have a look at who they’re up against — AEK Athens, Austria Wien, and Rijeka. Staying undefeated against that trio is not much of an accomplishment, especially when you consider the many millions they spent to improve their squad over the summer.
I don’t like their chances in the knockout stages. Against the top teams in Serie A, AC Milan have fared poorly. I expect them to perform similarly against the best of that Europa has to offer.
If Lyon manage to one-up their semifinal performance from last year and reach the Europa League final, they’ll be blessed with home-field advantage. But that’s a very, very long way away and their lineup doesn’t look anywhere near as good this time around. Alexandre Lacazette, their star striker, left for Arsenal over the summer; Corentin Tolisso was poached by Bayern Munich; and Emanuel Mammana left for Zenit. Lyon failed to sign any players that could make up for their losses. Lyon will struggle against some of the better European clubs, their second-place Ligue 1 performance notwithstanding.
Villarreal is a great example of a club that punches above its weight, but they’re still no match against the giants of Europe. Compared to the other Europa favorites, their lineup lacks talent and depth. They have some promising young players, like Pablo Fornals and Samu Castillejo, who could grow to be some of the future stars of Spanish football. But right now they’re just kids with potential.
Real Sociedad: 25/1
Athletic Bilbao: 33/1
Pick: Lazio (10/1)
Lazio may not be on everyone’s radar, but they’re a sturdy side with a surprisingly strong lineup. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of the best central midfielders playing in Italy and Stefan de Vrij is one of the most reliable centre-backs. They’re a club that’s often overlooked, both by the public and the bookmakers.