The UEFA Europa League (ex UEFA Cup), or UEL, has been held each year in Europe since 1971. Any European football club is eligible to participate, but their ability to join will depend on their performance in the leagues within their own country. The current format of this event is relatively new, having been changed for the 2009-2010 season. Over the years, there have been further changes to the structure of the event.
Some countries and teams have shown greater success in this tournament than others. 28 different clubs have won it, and 12 of them have won the title at least twice. At this time, Sevilla has the distinction of being the most successful club having won it a massive five times. Despite this, they’re not the current champions. This accolade goes to Atletico Madrid who managed to defeat Marseille last year to take the crown.
48 teams start the tournament, and these are all split into 12 groups of four with the top two teams in each group moving on. The next round cuts down the number of teams again until 16 teams remain, and this is where we are at now. This year, it’s Spain-heavy, with three teams from Spain still in contention. England is not so far behind with both Chelsea and Arsenal still in with a good chance.
Other countries still in the running include France, Germany, Italy (two teams), Portugal, Austria, Russia (two teams), Czech Republic, Ukraine and Croatia. These teams will all compete in a two-leg period before we then make our way into the quarterfinals and head to the finals with the last teams. But who is going to make it that far? Stay with us and see who is likely to move on and who will be going out.
At the moment, it is Sevilla that is looking strong as they won four games on the trot earlier on in the Europa League. Taking on Slavia Prague at home in the opening leg gives them the chance of putting the tie to bed before the second leg. As they are the most successful team this century, our money is on a lot of goals being scored, all by the Spanish side.
Villareal will be taking on Russian side Zenit, but this one is a little harder to predict. This is possibly one of the games of the tournament so far, and we see a draw occurring, especially as the Spanish team is away from home giving the Russians a distinct advantage. However, maybe it will be a Spanish win once again, truly putting these Spanish teams as the clubs to really watch out for.
Despite falling to fifth in the Premier League and therefore not qualifying for the Champions League, Chelsea is a powerful contender to take home the Europa League title once again. However, there’s a bit of pressure on them to succeed as there are still a few big games ahead. So far, their victories have been relatively simple especially against the likes of Malmo, so there shouldn’t be too much worry for fans.
Similarly, Arsenal is also doing quite well and are in with a shot. This revamped team is highly anticipated to do well, especially as they were more than in the running to take it home last year before finally losing to the Spanish champions. They do have some top quality players on the team this year, so keep an eye out as Unai Emery is expected to reach the Champions League next time around.
It’s always a good idea to keep some of the smaller teams in mind. Dynamo Kiev was a long shot at the start of the competition, but they have managed to reach the final 16 in some style. Some tough games lie ahead though for the team, especially against Chelsea. Similarly, Slavia Prague might not stand much of a chance, especially as they have to overcome a top-rated Sevilla side.
With so many teams playing well, this year the Europa League is wide open. The favourites have to be Chelsea and Sevilla but, of course, teams can have a bad day. Napoli is also in with a good shout, and team like Valencia and Arsenal are close behind. It looks like the quarters will be very much a Spanish and English affair which should lead to some truly great, and exciting football.
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