We have just ticked over into July and already I find myself turning my attention to the delights of the newly formed UEFA Europa League. In their infinite wisdom, UEFA have decided to tinker with this tournament once more in a vain attempt to enhance its image.
The main difference to last year’s competition is the format of the group stage. In the past, the group was made up of five teams who each played the other four on just one occasion.
That slightly bizarre method has now been axed and we have the more traditional format where we have a group of four playing each other in a normal home and away basis. Certainly that change is much fairer to all concerned and more appealing to the fans.
The group stages start in mid-September but for anyone wanting to get even that far they still have some football to play. At the very least all teams will have to tackle a play-off match towards the end of August to progress to the group stages.
The unlucky teams that are right down the pecking order will have already started on July 2 and will have to play eight matches just to reach the group phase. They can then take solace from that point they only need to play another fifteen matches to lift the trophy!
Some of you may be wondering what happened to the much-maligned Intertoto Cup. Well I can inform you that in effect that event has been incorporated into what we now see as the qualifying rounds for the Europa League. I am sure all those participating in these early rounds are just desperate to get to a point where they can play against one of the big teams.
I don’t expect any team to roll over but there are sure to be some one-sided affairs. The stand out teams in the first qualifying round are Rosenborg and Anorthosis. They are short priced to progress and could be supported without much fear of being turned over.
In European football there is such a distinct advantage to playing at home and in many ways this is more apparent when the teams have very little European experience. There aren’t huge amounts of value to be had but there are a couple of home teams who should be backed.
Icelandic side Fram would definitely warrant some support at 1.78 at home to Welsh side The New Saints. Due to the harsh winter the Icelandic League is played through the summer and as such Fram are already ten games into their season. It hasn’t been a great start to the season for them but they will be fired up to face a team who, despite several attempts, has yet to win a game in Europe.
The other home team that catches my eye in this first phase of games is FC Zimbru Chisinau. The Moldovan outfit came second in their league last season and will have some confidence going into an encounter at home to Okzhetpes from Kazakhstan.
Neither are exactly renowned for producing top teams but Okzhetpes only managed ninth last season and are currently tenth after thirteen games of this season. At odds of 1.75 Zimbru Chisinau are definitely the team to be on in this match-up.
In all fairness, the likelihood of many teams participating in these early rounds going to the group stages is slim. There are some very good teams that will come in at the play-offs and that is not to mention the Champion League failures who will join the competition. In total, an amazing thirty three different teams that fail in the Champions League will get a chance at the Europa League.
Fifteen losing teams from the Champions League third qualifying round will join the Europa League play-offs. Ten teams who lose in the Champions League play-offs will join the Europa League group stages and finally the eight third placed teams in the Champions League group stages will join in at the last 32 stage of the Europa League.
Clearly this makes having a punt on the Winner market somewhat of a tricky proposition! But the facts are there are some teams already in there who will fancy their chances of being the inaugural winners of the Europa League.
Roma currently head the market at odds of 15.5 and they are a difficult team to assess. Sixth in Serie A last season was a disappointment but they do have some quality and if they apply themselves to this tournament then they will be big dangers. Other notable mentions must go to Valencia and Villarreal, who nobody will want to face.
Of the English teams Everton and Villa should both have good chances. Martin O’Neill took a huge amount of stick for fielding a weakened side last year I doubt he will risk the wrath of the supporters again so they may go well at odds of around 28.0.
There are eleven months of Europa League ahead and for many it will be an arduous path. It will require a minimum fifteen European matches to win it so whoever does hold the trophy aloft in Hamburg next May you can be sure they have put the graft in that merits it.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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