The Europa League is the second tier of European club football, and 2018-19 is the tenth season in its current form (having previously been known as the UEFA Cup). Although some of the bigger clubs in Europe have been known to take a rather dismissive approach to the Europa League, regarding having to play on a Thursday during match weeks as something of an inconvenience, others hold the competition in very high regard and set themselves the target of winning it — think of the approach of Sevilla, the most successful club in Europa League history with five titles to date in 2006, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In fact, this is a competition in which Spanish clubs have traditionally done well, having won Europa League/UEFA Cup titles on 11 occasions. Atlético Madrid is the current title holder, having defeated French side Marseille 3-0 in the 2017-18 final, held at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
For many supporters, what makes the Europa League so interesting is the combination of very well-known clubs from the major leagues who have national and international pedigrees coming up against clubs who only the most dedicated football hipster will have ever heard of before. For those who are genuinely interested in the game as a whole, rather than supporting their own team or sides from their home country, the Europa League does therefore give you the chance to explore some of the more interesting backwaters of European football.
Having said this, it naturally tends to be the big sides who get the lion’s share of the media and fan attention, and the 2018-19 Europa League features some very big sides indeed. For instance, this year’s tournament includes Arsenal and Chelsea (winners in 2013) from the Premier League, five-time winners Sevilla from La Liga, Italian giants Milan and Lazio, as well as other clubs with long European pedigrees like Bayer Leverkusen (Bundesliga), Spartak Moscow, Fenerbahçe (Turkey) and Marseille (Ligue 1).
The group stages of the Europa League consists of 48 teams in 12 groups of four. Teams in each group play each other home and way, with the top two from each group progressing to the Round of 32 (along with the 8 teams knocked out in the Champions’ League third round).
From here on, it is knockout football, with each round of matches played home and away, except for the Europa League Final, which is a one-off game that will be played at the Baku Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan in May 2019.
During the group stages, there are six match days — 20 September, 4 October, 25 October, 8 November, 29 November and 13 December 2018.
Round of 32 matches will then be played on 14 and 21 February 2019, followed by Round of 16 games on 7 and 14 March. The quarter finals take place on 11 and 18 April, followed by the semis on 2 and 9 May. The Europa League final will be played on 29 May 2019.
Punters should note that, as at the time of writing we have only completed Matchday 2 in the group stages, many markets (apart from the overall winner and group winners) have not yet been framed, primarily because bookies tend to wait to see the composition of the Round of 32 before they start setting prices for top goalscorer, etc. However, there are still plenty of Europa League betting markets for you to get involved in.
With an unrivalled record in the competition and currently sitting top of the league in La Liga, it is hard to ignore the 20/1 price on Sevilla winning its sixth Europa League currently being offered at BetVictor. Admittedly, the 1-2 loss away to Russian side Krasnodar on Matchday 2 was something of a surprise, but you would have to fancy that it will still qualify for the next round and then, with Sevilla’s experience of winning knock-knock-out matches, that 20/1 begins to look like ridiculously good value.
Chelsea has long been the bookies’ favourite to win the 2018-19 Europa League, and Maurizio Sarri’s side are currently still in pole position at 5/1 with bet365, BetVictor and Unibet. If you want to try and eke out a little more value, have a punt on Chelsea winning multiple trophies this season. You can get 14/1 on a League Cup/Europa League double, 22/1 on the Blues winning the Europa League and the FA Cup, as well as a massive 66/1 on Chelsea winning both the Premier League and the Europa League at Coral.
“We’ve got our Arsenal back!” is the refrain being heard on the terraces at Arsenal this season, and it is true that the Gooners are playing with more attacking verve than they have for many years; so much so that they are only two points off top spot in 4th place. The bookmakers fancy them in Europe this season as well, and SkyBet, Unibet and 888 will currently give you 15/2 on Unai Emery’s side taking out the Europa League title next May. If you are feeling extremely optimistic about the re-born Arsenal’s chances you might want to have a punt on a Premier League/Europa League double, at Coral’s very enticing 200/1.
In terms of the group winners, there is not a huge deal of good value about. Krasnodar winning Group J at 5/4 (ahead of Sevilla) looks a reasonable bet, while the 11/8 on Beşiktaş coming out on top in Group I also looks solid, despite having already lost a match. The 6/1 on Marseille winning Group H on paper looks a good bet, although their patchy Ligue 1 form and the fact that they have already lost a group stage game (plus a draw) suggests that the bookies might have got this one right. Otherwise, the only other bet in this market where you have any reasonable prospect of making some money is Villareal to win Group G at 6/5.
According to the bookmakers, probably not. Celtic is currently priced at 100/1 with BetVictor and Sportingbet to win the tournament, so you have to be fairly keen supporter to put it in the reckoning — still at, 100/1 what’s there to lose? Having said that, most bookies don’t see the Bhoys even getting out of Group B, where Celtic is third favourite at 9/1.
Rangers, on the other hand, is getting a little bit more love from the bookmakers in some respects, after a win and a draw from its first two group stage matches. Some sports books have Gers as short as 80/1 to win the tournament, although to be fair that enthusiasm isn’t widely shared, and you can still get a best price of 150/1 at SkyBet, Marathon Bet and Betway. Rangers do, however, look to be a little better placed to qualify from Group G, and is currently second favourite behind Villareal at 9/4.