With the draw for the first qualifying round of the Europa League has come the birth of the new season’s European agenda. For the teams that enter at this stage, it is a long and brutal – and usually failed – slog to the group stage. However, for the two Premier League teams that will fly the flag for England in this season’s competition – Arsenal and Everton – there can be no room for complacency.
Once at the group stage, the 48 remaining teams are placed into four pots. The twelve teams that have the highest coefficient, which is a number based on European performances over the past five years, are placed into pot one. Amongst those teams in pot one is Arsenal, currently available at 9/1 (as favourites) to win the Europa League through online betting with Guts.com. The North London club’s high coefficient is the result of twenty consecutive years as a Champions League participant.
Arsenal, as 9/1 favourites to win the Europa League, are followed by AC Milan and Lazio.
The twelve clubs with the lowest UEFA coefficients are placed in pot four, and are generally seen as elimination fodder, but last season this was not the case. Remarkably, three teams from pot four – Osmanlispor, Hapoel Beer-Sheva and Astra Giurgiu – managed to qualify for the knockout phase. This cannot fail to motivate and inspire the three most vulnerable of the teams bound for pot four.
All of them are notable for having a coefficient of less than 10.000 in the upcoming Europa League competition, and they are:
Konyaspor – Coefficient: 9.840
After the jubilation of third place in the 2015/16 Super Lig, and a guaranteed Europa League group stage berth, came European despair. Konyaspor were drummed out of the competition with just a single point to show from six group games. However, they won the Turkish Cup for the first time ever this year, and could harness some vital confidence from that achievement.
KEY PLAYER: Riad Bajić – A forward with an optimal balance between strength and speed, he scored 17 times in 32 appearances for Konyaspor last season.
FC Zlin – 6.635
Manchester United’s victory over Ajax in the 2016/17 final had major permutations for the Czech top flight, and the designation of European places. In what will be the club’s European debut, Zlin are guaranteed a group stage berth, but they will most certainly be in pot four.
KEY PLAYER: Stanislav Dostál – The ever-loyal goalkeeper’s performances in the semi-final and final of the MON Cup were exemplary.
FC Lugano – 6.415
It is only by virtue of Switzerland’s lofty sitting in the FIFA rankings that FC Lugano has been granted a place in the Europa League group stage. Finishing third in the Swiss Super League is hardly ideal preparation for a group that may contain some real giants. They can but hope and pray.
KEY PLAYER: Ezgjan Alioski – The Macedonian winger has enough pace to trouble the better teams and demonstrates a good work rate in most games.
FC Lugano’s last piece of silverware came with victory in the 1993 Swiss Cup final.
The effects of a good European run can be profound. Notably, the aforementioned Astra Giurgiu are now predicted to occupy pot three in the group stage of 2017/18. This is a direct result of improving their coefficient so drastically with last season’s cup run to the knockout phase. For the second time in as many seasons, they also took advantage of a West Ham side that had just finished in the top half of the (2015/16) table.
Indeed, teams from more celebrated leagues – such as the Premier League and La Liga – will be more conflicted than ever. The decision of whether to focus on the riches of a high league finish, or go all-out for a Europa League triumph is an ever-growing dilemma as Europe’s top leagues become ever more lucrative. Therein may lie some additional hope for the group stage’s ‘weakest’ teams against the giants in their respective groups.