After two and a half months of qualifying play, we’ve finally reached the Group Stage of the UEFA Europa League! But before matches kick off on 20 September, the qualifiers had to be drawn into their respective groups.
Unlike the Champions League, where 32 teams compete at the group level, there are 48 teams in the Europa League tournament: 17 teams that enter directly at the Group Stage, 21 winners from the Europa League play-off round, 6 losers from the Champions League playoff round, and 4 League Path losers from the Champions League third qualifying round. The first and second place clubs from each group – as well as the 8 third-place teams from the Champions League Group Stage – will move onto the next round of Europa League, but that won’t happen until December after all group stage matches are played.
The 17 teams that are placed directly into the Europa League at the Group Stage are pulled from the following associations, based on the associations rank per the UEFA coefficient:
- 12 domestic cup winners from associations 1-12
- 1 domestic league fourth-placed team from association 5
- 4 domestic league fifth-placed teams from associations 1-4
Of the 21 winners from the Europa playoff rounds, four clubs entered during the first qualifying round: Apollon Limassol (Cyprus), Copenhagen (Denmark), Rangers (Scotland), and Sarpsborg 08 (Norway). These clubs fought through four rounds to reach the group stage and hope to continue on in the tournament.
Twenty-seven national associations are represented in the Group Stage, and no association has more than three clubs. F91 Dudelange from Luxembourg will be the first club from Luxembourg to play this late in either the Europa or Championship League. Furthermore, there are nine clubs that will be making their debut in the Europa League group stage, though four of those teams have previously appeared in the group stage of the Champions League.
The 12 drawn groups ended up looking like this:
With defending champion Atlético Madrid currently in the Champions League – they could come back to Europa League should they finish in third-place in their group there – the tournament is wide open, though we have eight teams that will muck things up after the group stage of Champions League. As it stands now, however, early favorites to reach the Round of 32 include Spanish club Sevilla and English clubs Arsenal and Chelsea. This is based mostly on their lofty UEFA ranks (6, 9, and 13, respectively), but also because of their group draws.
Sevilla (113.000 UEFA coefficient) is head and shoulders above the other three clubs in Group J, being nearly 90 points ahead of Krasnodar (23.500), the second highest club in their group, and over 100 points ahead of Standard Liège (12.500). Fourth team Akhisarspor is also distantly behind, pointing to an easy trip to the next round for Sevilla. The kick off group play against Standard Liège, so a win there would be a step in the right direction.
Arsenal has the next easiest path through to the next round out of Group E, with the second-largest gap between them and the second-best club, in this case Sporting CP, at least according to UEFA coefficient. Arsenal (93.000) is a distant second to Sevilla overall, but 53 points ahead of Sporting CP (40.000), 72.5 points ahead of Qarabağ (20.500) and nearly 85 points ahead of Vorskla Poltava (8.226).
Finally, Chelsea also finds themselves as the best team in Group L by a large margin. They (82.000) have large gaps between the other teams in their group – PAOK (29.500), BATE Borisov (20.500), and MOL Vidi (4.250) – and are the only team in their group to be above the average group UEFA coefficient. An opening match against PAOK should set the tone for the group, and Chelsea should be expected to come out on top, especially considering their dominant play thus far in Premier League play. They have also been pegged by FiveThirtyEight as the favorite to advance to the Round of 32, as well as win the entire tournament.
Using similar factors, the closest thing we might have to a “Group of Death” in this year’s tournament might be in Group F. Two of the four teams, Olympiacos (54.000) and Milan (28.000) are above the average UEFA coefficient for the group (26.725), and the third team – Real Betis – is within five points (21.399). Only a “weak” fourth team, the aforementioned F91 Dudelange, makes it slightly less competitive than some of the other groups, with FiveThirtyEight giving each of the top three teams better than a 58% chance of advancing to the Round of 32 (F91 Dudelange checks in with only a 3% chance of doing so).
Though the favorites from each group are currently the highest ranked clubs, things can change once the matches get started. Is your favorite team in the draw? Do you like their chances of making it through to the Round of 32? Let us know who you’re rooting for and if you think they got a favorable draw!
Until next time…
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