<![CDATA[Since the introduction of the ruling in 2015 that the UEFA Europa League winner will secure themselves a spot in the Champions League the following season, interest in the competition has piqued considerably.
Naturally, this afford them the opportunity to establish themselves as one of Europe’s finest clubs, not to mention cash in on the financial benefits that playing in the continent’s premier competition brings. It is also a brilliant sales tool for bringing in quality new players too; as Sevilla, last season’s Europa League kings, have shown by signing the likes of Adil Rami, Fernando Llorente and Ciro Immobile.
So, according to the bookmakers, who are the sides who will be looking to emulate the Spanish club by booking their place in the jewel in European football’s crown for the 2016/17 campaign?
Borussia Dortmund (from 9.00)
The manner in which the German giants have started their Bundesliga campaign suggests that they might just qualify for the Champions League automatically through their league position alone.
With four wins from four games – a run in which they have rattled in a whopping 15 goals – it’s fair to say that Dortmund are one of the clear favourites for the trophy. They should waltz through Group C, coming up against the likes of FK Krasnodar, FK Qabala and PAOK Salonika; not exactly the giants of European football.
Despite a poor 2014/15 campaign, Dortmund have managed to hang on to their key players too, including Marco Reus, Mats Hummels and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. With a decent amount of squad depth, the Gold and Black are the smart money to take the Europa League crown.
Liverpool (from 17.00)
In truth, a lack of strength in depth will probably curtail Liverpool’s challenge at the knockout stage of the tournament, particularly as the English premier League has to be their number one priority.
It is always hard for teams that were last season in the Champions League to summon up the motivation to compete in the supposed ‘second tier’ event, and after suffering an indifferent start to their domestic campaign Brendan Rodgers is likely to ring the changes for the European occasion.
Nevertheless, they should saunter through a group containing Bordeaux, FC Sion and Rubin Kazan, but not much further.
Napoli (from 18.00)
Having yet to win in three attempts in Serie A so far this season, it is fair to say that Napoli’s – like Liverpool’s – eye might well be focused elsewhere than Europa League action.
The Italian giants really went for it last year as well; frequently playing their best team in an attempt to bring some silverware back to Naples. They ultimately fell at the penultimate hurdle in the semi-finals to Ukrainian underdogs Dnipro.
But good players don’t go bad overnight, and in Gonzalo Higuain, Lorenzo Insigne and Marek Hamsik, Napoli boast some of the best in the competition. It just depends how focused they are on European glory as to how far they can go.
By: Craig Simpkin