Three Europa League talking points after matchday four
This season’s Europa League group stages are hotting up. With two more rounds of games left to play, several teams have already guaranteed their place in the knockout phase. In other groups, things aren’t as clear-cut and some incredible battles lie ahead. In particular, Groups B and G look tasty with any one of four still able to book their place in next month’s draw for the round of 32. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest talking points after the most recent round of matches.
Sevilla are sizzling
In Group A, Sevilla guaranteed their place in the round of 32 with a thumping 5-2 win over Dudelange on matchday four. After four wins from four matches, the Spanish side top the group with 12 points. With APOEL and Qarabağ in second and third on four points, they cannot be overtaken.
The five-time winners have been dominant thus far, scoring 12 goals and conceding twice. Their domestic campaign has also started well, with Julen Lopetegui’s side sitting fourth. The top of La Liga is incredibly tight but spurred on by their European performances, Sevilla will be full of confidence to transfer this form to the league.
Striker Munir is currently the Europa League’s top scorer with five goals, and after netting a hat-trick against Dudelange in their most recent fixture, the 24-year-old is averaging a goal every 56 minutes. His attacking potency will be a threat to whoever the Andalusian side face in the knockout stages.
British clubs likely to prevail
As things stand, Celtic and Manchester United are the only British representatives that have qualified for the round of 32.
Celtic secured their place courtesy of a 95th-minute winner from Olivier Ntcham as Neil Lennon’s men came from behind in Rome to beat Lazio 2-1. That result not only secured their place in the knockout stages, but denied the Italian club the chance to progress. At the top of Group D, one point separates the Bhoys from Romanian club CFR Cluj.
Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Red Devils guaranteed their place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade. Like Celtic, they can still finish either first or second in Group L, with Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar two points behind. Although United’s domestic campaign may not be going to plan, their performances in Europe are undoubtedly a highlight, with the side yet to lose a match or concede a goal. United are also joint-favourites in Europa League betting odds.
It’s looking good for the rest of the British contingent. In Group F, Arsenal top the table with 10 points and would have guaranteed their place in the knockout stages had they not thrown away their lead to Vitória de Guimarães. The Gunners are four points ahead of Standard Liege and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers can still qualify, although things in Group G are tight. As things stand, both Young Boys and the Gers sit on seven points at the top of the table, with Feyenoord and Porto only three points behind. The final two games will be tense, with Rangers and Young Boys meeting on matchday six. That game could well decide the group winner.
Wolves also sit second in their group, following their win against Slovan Bratislava. Braga top Group K with 10 points, with Wolves a point behind and the two clash in Portugal on matchday five. Progression looks likely for Nuno Espírito Santo’s men.
It’s been a talking point for seasons now and the introduction of the third tier Europa Conference League in 2021-22 can’t come soon enough. Okay, so forget the name for five minutes and think about how much more competitive Europe’s second-string tournament could be with a more streamlined format. As we’ve mentioned, it’s all to play for in two groups with two games left to play. Let’s take a look at some of the sides that are struggling.
Two teams are yet to pick up a single point: Beşiktaş in Group K and Astana in Group L. While the Turkish club have scored four goals in as many games, poor Astana have only netted once, shopping 14 in the process.
Elsewhere, across the 12 groups, eight teams have picked up points but failed to win any of their four matches. In Group I, Saint-Étienne and Oleksandriya haven’t fared too badly, drawing three and losing one game. Both clubs can still mathematically progress.
The gulf between the clubs in the Europa League is huge and more apparent than in the Champions League. While the financial gain is important, you have to question if these minnows are only participating to make up the numbers?