We are halfway through the group stage of Europa League, and just like over in the Champions League, nobody has yet clinched their respective group. However, six of the 12 groups are led by clubs with three wins:
- Zürich leads Group A, with a goal differential of +3 (49% chance of first in group)
- Red Bull Salzburg leads Group B, with a GD of +6 (81% chance)
- Dinamo Zagreb leads Group D, with a GD of +6 (92% chance)
- Arsenal leads Group E, with a GD of +6 (92% chance)
- Eintracht Frankfurt leads Group H, with a GD of +6 (69% chance)
- Chelsea leads Group L, with a GD of +4 (98% chance)
These six clubs have a leg up on at least finishing second in their respective groups, especially the clubs (Zagreb and Chelsea) that have a second-place club that doesn’t have six points. Chelsea remains the overall favorite, even among teams that might show up after finishing third in their Champions League group (we see you Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur!).
These are some of the results from the third day of matches from Europa League that caught our attention, based on pre-tournament UEFA rankings and where the match took place. Matches that moved a club closer to clinching a spot in the next round – or securing their ouster – will also get some attention. Home teams are listed first:
Zürich 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Zürich, at least according to UEFA rankings, was the third best team in Group A when the group stage began, checking in as the 112th best club in UEFA (Bayer was 20th and Ludogorets Razgrad was 39th). Since then, they’ve won three straight games, and have moved up to 77th place in the rankings. As indicated previously, they have a 49% chance of finishing first, which is actually 1% behind the club they beat in this match, so they still have some work ahead of them, though they do have a 97% chance of finishing at least second in the group. In two weeks, there will be a rematch of these clubs – this time in Germany – but it will be a match between the two clubs that are most likely moving on to the knockout phase.
Copenhagen 0-1 Slavia Prague
Copenhagen was nominally the second-best club in Group C entering the group stage, checking in as the 43rd best team (behind Zenit and their 16th ranking). And they haven’t been quite eliminated yet after going 1-1-1 through the first three matches. But losing to Slavia Prague (ranked 153rd) at home hasn’t made their path much easier, especially with two road matches (at Prague and at Saint Petersburg) in their final three group stage matches. They still have a 43% chance of advancing (though it will most likely be as the second place team), but they need to get revenge in Prague in two weeks to increase their chances, otherwise they might be heading home before they are ready.
Rangers 0-0 Spartak Moscow
Villarreal 5-0 Rapid Wien
I wanted to highlight both games in Group G because it is not often that you see a club win a game 5-0 and remain in second place based on a tiebreaker. But thanks to Rangers 2-2 draw with Villarreal during Matchday 1 (in Spain no less!) lets the Scottish club have the upper hand for now. The group is far from settled (each club has at least a 23% chance to advance according to FiveThirtyEight), but it is fun to see the club that was ranked 265th in UEFA entering play (they have since moved up to 220th) leading a group at this point.
Standard Liège 2-1 Krasnodar
Sevilla 6-0 Akhisarspor
Krasnodar received mention after Matchday 2 for defeating Sevilla, but I wanted to mention both matches in Group J because there are three teams currently tied with six points (sorry Akhisarspor!). Sevilla has the edge because of their +9 goal differential, and they were the highest-ranked club entering the stage (6th) so they were expected to be in this position. But they were also expected to run away with this group, so to be in this position half way through the group stage makes it interesting.
Matchday 4 could see some of the six clubs at the top of this piece clinch spots in the next round, which would allow them to rest some first-squad regulars in the in final two matches of the group stage. For the most part, the clubs that are supposed to be winning are doing so, but there are still room for some surprises, which tends to happen more in Europa than Champions League. November 8th can’t come soon enough.
Until next time…