While the Champions League always steals focus from its little brother, the Europa League draw took place last Friday with some big hitters in the mix.
It’s a curious tournament to bet on at such an early stage, considering the competition only really tends to heat up when the third-placed Champions League finishers drop down and the knockout phase begins, but there are still some inflated prices worth thinking about ahead of the big kickoff later this month.
All odds referenced from 5Dimes and current as of Sept. 4. Always remember to shop for the best line.
Opponents : BATE Borisov, PAOK, Vidi FC
Given the format of the competition, the Blues’ price is really quite low and makes them strong favorites as things stand, but it is difficult to argue with that stance. Handed arguably the most favorable draw on paper, Maurizio Sarri will be able to rotate his squad early on in the tournament and still top Group L comfortably, which will only help matters further down the line.
With the likes of Marcos Alonso, N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Willian and, in particular, Eden Hazard in the ranks, they boast talent that no other team in the competition can.
Opponents : Qarabag, Sporting CP, Vorskla
Given what has been a shaky start to the season, even if understandably so given the state of transition at the club, Arsenal are way too short in my opinion. They boast the attack to hurt any side in the tournament, but defensively there are still huge problems to be solved, and it will be no quick fix.
Their group isn’t overly straightforward either, with Sporting CP clearly the standout rival for the top spot, but Azerbaijani champions Qarabag reached the Champions League group stages last season, picking up a point home and away to condemn eventual victors Atletico Madrid to the Europa League.
The Unai Emery effect has clearly gone some way to shaping the Gunners’ odds, but his success in the tournament in the past — lifting the trophy three times — came with a Sevilla side that spoke his language on and off the pitch.
Opponents : Akhisarspor, FC Krasnodar, Standard Liege
Speak of the devil, the three-time champions between 2014 and 2016 are third favorites to claim the title again following a favorable group draw.
Trips to Turkey and Russia certainly won’t be a walk in the park, but the additions of Andre Silva and Quincy Promes over the summer have given the side a bit of sparkle in the final third that they were perhaps lacking last season.
Pablo Machin has taken the reins over the summer, but the young coach, who led Girona to the top flight and kept them there comfortably last season, has never managed a team in Europe, and this will be a new challenge altogether.
Bayer Leverkusen +2500
Opponents : AEK Larnaca, FC Zurich, Ludogorets Razgrad
One of the chasing pack to the front-runners with the bookies, Leverkusen deserve that status, having been handed some favorable opposition in the group stage.
It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Heiko Herrlich’s side, but once they hit their stride, this young squad is very capable indeed. They may be lacking experience, so their price is certainly justifiable, but a front five of Kai Havertz, Julian Brandt, Kevin Volland, Leon Bailey and Lucas Alario could do some serious damage.
Zenit St. Petersburg +4000
Opponents : Bordeaux, FC Copenhagen, Slavia Prague
He may be another new coach to this stage, but Sergei Semak has certainly hit the ground running in the Russian Premier League with Zenit, steering his new side to the top of the table after six matches.
They dropped their first points of the season over the weekend but still picked up one against reigning champions Spartak Moscow and have conceded just one goal thus far. There’s a strong spine to the side, particularly in midfield, with some real quality in there, and the addition of Claudio Marchisio is an exciting one.
After an awful season under Roberto Mancini, things are looking up again for a side that progressed past the Champions League group stages in two of the past five seasons and won this tournament 10 years ago.
Opponents : Genk, Malmoe FF, Sarpsborg 08
Having been knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Europa League on penalties in 2016-17, Besiktas progressed past the group stages in the Champions League last season for the first time in 30 years, and overcame some strong opposition to do so.
They may have been thumped by Bayern in the round of 16, but they won’t face a side of that quality this time around. So the fact that they topped a group including FC Porto, RB Leipzig and Monaco — all of whom one would expect to go deep in the Europa League — should offer the fans encouragement.
They’ve lost Anderson Talisca and Cenk Tosun since then, but Adem Ljajic is a very good pickup to help replace the former, and a centerback pairing of Pepe and Domagoj Vida is very strong at this level.
With a favorable draw, they are one of the teams set out too far in the odds as things stand, and I think they are the value side ahead of the tournament.