Europa League Odds & Picks | Expert Futures Predictions
Gualtar Fatia/Getty. Pictured: Hidemasa Mori.
Thursday marks the return of the Europa League. It may be Europe's second tier competition, but that doesn't mean there isn't still a ton of drama and the prize at the end is incredibly valuable for the teams in this competition – a spot in the Champions League next season. The past three champions ,Villarreal, Frankfurt and Sevilla, wouldn't have qualified for the Champions League if they didn't win this competition.
The set up for the group stage is the same as the Champions League, but once we reach the knockout stage things are much different. The eight third place teams from the Champions League group stage drop down to face the eight second place teams from the Europa League group stage. Then, the winners of that round advance to the round of 16 to join eight group winners.
Europa League Futures
This is an important discussion to have because before the tournament starts, I don't think it makes much sense to bet a team to win the Europa League unless you really like a long shot. With the third place teams from the Champions League coming down, some of the big names instantly become one of the favorites to win the competition, which actually extends the odds of a lot of the teams that are at the top of the board right now.
For example, I really like Brighton to win the Europa League, but at 14/1 and being the second-favorite at bet365 it's not a number I can touch. Let's say hypothetically that Newcastle, Manchester United and RB Leipzig all finish third in their Champions League group and drop down to the Europa League. Brighton are no longer going to be the second-favorite and will probably be in the 20/1 range.
So, instead I find it much more useful to bet individual group futures.
AEK Athens to Advance From Group B (+550 via bet365)
Last season in the Greek Super League, AEK Athens put up a +1.62 xGD per 90 minutes. That is the best mark of anyone in the Europa League field. The Greek Super League is 19th in Europe, but by total league transfer value they are 11th. They were incredibly unlucky not to be in the Champions League, losing in the final qualifying round to Royal Antwerp despite beating them on xG over the two legs 4.1 to 1.8.
Brighton are likely going to win this group, but Marseille have had their issues to begin the season and got taken out in the Champions League qualifiers by another Greek team, Panathinaikos. Plus, they lost Guendouzi to Lazio and their two best attackers have left for other clubs. They did make some good signings, but they are also trying to figure out their system under new manager Marcelino.
Ajax got raided this summer, Kudus, Alvarez and Timber are all gone and quite frankly they weren’t that great in the Eredivisie anyway last season. They put up some great underlying numbers against the rest of the league, but they did not win a single match against PSV, Feyenoord or Alkamaar.
Given how impressive AEK Athens' underlying numbers were in the Greek League, I don't think the gap between them, Marseille and Ajax is as drastic as the market is implying.
Sporting CP to win Group D (+150 via BetMGM)
Sporting have been in the Champions League for two years, but dropped down to the Europa League after finishing third in their group to knockout Arsenal in the round of 16.
This version of Sporting is interesting because of their activity this summer. They sold their defensive ball stopping midfielder Manuel Ugarte to PSG for $60 million, but replaced him with a guy of similar traits in Lecce's Morten Hjulmand, who was in the 99th percentile among Europe's top five leagues in interceptions per 90 minutes at 2.28 per 90 minutes. They also added Viktor Gyökeres, who scored 21 goals for Coventry City in the Championship last year.
This Sporting team put up +1.22 xGD per 90 minutes in Portugal and so far are leading the Portuguese Primeira Liga through five matches. Most importantly, I don't think there is that significant of a gap between them and Atalanta, who is their main competition for this group.
Atalanta had transfers in and out of the club during this past transfer window, but after the dust all settled they are basically in the same position that they were last season. Their underlying metrics in Serie A really weren't that impressive considering they only had a +0.43 xGD per 90 minutes.
The gap between Portugal and Italy in terms of UEFA coefficients is actually closer than Italy is to England. In fact, I have Italy projected 0.47 goals per 90 minutes better than Portugal, so using that logic Sporting should actually be a slight favorite to win this group.
Rennes to win Group E (+240 via BetMGM)
Rennes lost a couple of key players during the January transfer window, but I think you can make the argument that with the players they brought in that they are just as as good as they were last season. Jeremy Doku is now at Manchester City and is an immense talent, but he only play 14.3 90s for Rennes in Ligue 1 last season. The bigger loss is Lovro Majer, who left for Wolfsburg. Majer had a 0.48 xG + xA per 90 minute rate in Ligue 1 last season, but Rennes went out and got Ludvig Blas from Nantes and Enzo Le Fee from Lorient.
They only had a +0.43 xGD per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 last year, but they are off to a flying start domestically this year, putting up a +5.2 xGD through their first five matches.
Villarreal should not be the favorite to win this group given what is currently going on at the club. This summer, they got raided for all of their most valuable players. Pau Torres is now at Aston Villa, Nicholas Jackson is at Chelsea and Samuel Chukwueze is at AC Milan. To make matters even worse for Villarreal they just sacked their manager Quique Setien and hired Pacheta, who just got Real Valladolid relegated last season.
Pacheta played a more direct style at Real Valladolid, which is a massive change from Setien, who had Villarreal primarily playing out from the back in a slow build up style.
Maybe the change in tactics will be a benefit to Villarreal, but doing that right before you start the Europa League group stage is not a good situation.
Qarabag to advance from Group H (+125 via bet365)
Bayer Leverkusen are going to win this group in a runaway, but the second spot to advance is priced like it's up for grabs when in my opinion there is a clear and away favorite for that spot.
Qarabag are the top club out of Azerbaijan and have more Europa League experience than just about anybody. They have been either in the Champions League or Europa League in 10 of the last 11 seasons. They failed to make it out of a somewhat difficult last season, but they were incredibly unlucky to do so. They put up the best underlying metrics, over Freiburg, Nantes and Olympiacos.
Having Europa League experience is so massive for these clubs that come from smaller countries because in their domestic leagues they are so used to dominating possession and often times when they face bigger sides they aren't used to defending out of possession in their own final third for a majority of the match. Qurban Qurbanov has been their manager since 2008, so he is very experienced in these types of competitions playing the tactics that give them the best opportunity at advancing.
The two other clubs, Molde and BK Hacken, are nearing the end of the domestic seasons as Sweden and Norway primarily play during the summer. That's a massive disadvantage to them having to play basically a full season and then also at the very end add in the Europa League. Molde are actually having a pretty bad season as they're currently sitting outside of the top three and only have a +0.53 xGD per 90 minutes.
BK Hacken are sitting in third place in Sweden at the moment with only a +0.60 xGD. Meanwhile, Qarabag in Azerbaijan consistently put up a +1.20 xGD per 90 minutes.