Europa League Betting Tips

Europa League Match Ball

vverve, bigstockphoto.com

The Europa League is Europe’s second club competition behind the Champions League. Formally the UEFA Cup, it has been in its current guise since the 2009/10 season.

Like the Champions League, the Europa League also features teams from across Europe competing in a league format before entering a knockout phase in the final stages. The qualification for this starts as early as June depending on UEFA coefficients, with Champions League group stage dropouts also entering the fray during the round of 32.

Although not quite matching the prestige of the Champions League, winning the Europa League does gain that team entry into the following season’s premier competition so silverware isn’t all that is at stake. Manchester United, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have all won in recent years with Liverpool and Fulham also reaching finals since becoming the Europa League.

Below are our previews and tips for the biggest games across the latest round of matches.

Europa League Matches – 12th December 2019

Date Time Channel Match Tip
12/12/19 17:55 BT Sport Cluj v Celtic Celtic Win
12/12/19 17:55 BT Sport Standard Liege v Arsenal Arsenal to Win -1
12/12/19 20:00 BT Sport Man Utd v AZ Alkmaar Man Utd to Win -1
12/12/19 20:00 BT Sport Rangers v Young Boys Rangers Win
12/12/19 20:00 BT Sport Wolves v Besiktas Wolves Win

Five British clubs are in UEFA Europa League action on Thursday night and there is a good chance we could see a clean sweep in terms of progression to the knockout phase of the tournament. It’s the final group games of the competition for Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Arsenal, Celtic and Rangers.

Celtic, Wolves and Man Utd have already booked their spots in the next round of the competition. Arsenal and Rangers will be hoping to join the trio in the last 32 and as things stand they look to have a very good chance. Of course, it isn’t just the UK teams that are worth betting on and there are some interesting and crucial fixtures elsewhere in the Europa League. They are certainly worth a second look too, although here we focus on British five.

Gunners to Prevail in Belgium

Standard Liege Stade de Sclessin

By Zergori, Wikimedia Commons

Arsenal travel to Belgium to take on Standard Liege at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne on Thursday. The Gunners are top of Group F going into the final round, three points above third place Liege and a point ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt.

Arsenal kicked off with three consecutive wins to take control of Group F. However, they have taken just one point from their last two, leaving them with work to do in their final group game. Last time out in Europe, the Londoners were beaten 2-1 at home by Frankfurt, which proved to be Unai Emery’s last match in charge.

The Gunners ended their long winless run on Monday night as they came from behind in fine style to see off West Ham. That result will have boosted confidence and they should travel in a positive state of mind, fully believing they can complete the job and top the group.

Standard Liege’s last 32 hopes are still just about alive, as they are two points behind Eintracht Frankfurt. However, they need to beat Arsenal and hope that bottom side Vitoria de Guimaraes do them a favour in the other game, so realistically they are up against it.

That is even more so when you consider that Arsenal thumped Liege 4-0 when they squared off at the Emirates Stadium back in October. The Gunners will be expecting to seal another comfortable victory over the Belgian side, so back the away team to win -1 at 5/2.

Gers to See Off Young Boys

Steven Gerrard’s Rangers will secure their place in the Round of 32 of the Europa League if they can pick up a positive result against Gerardo Seoane’s Young Boys at Ibrox on Thursday. The Scottish side are a point above the Swiss outfit and Porto in Group G and with this fixture being at home they will fully expect to book their spot in the next phase of the competition.

Gerrard’s men have been solid in a very competitive group. In fact, only three points separate all four clubs so this really is wide open. Rangers moved to the top with a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Feyenoord at De Kuip last month. Since losing to Young Boys in Bern back in October, the Gers have won one and drawn two and they remain very difficult to beat.

Young Boys’ top two hopes were dealt a huge blow when they were beaten at home by Porto last time out. Despite taking an early lead, two second half strikes by Vincent Aboubakar gave the Portuguese side a 2-1 victory at the Stade de Suisse.

A point will be enough to put Rangers through to the knockout stages but they have the ability and belief to claim all three. After last weekend’s gut-wrenching defeat to Old Firm rivals Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final, the Teddy Bears will be desperate to hit back with a Europa League triumph on Thursday. They dominated that game and Celtic are better than Young Boys. What’s more, Rangers are very strong at Ibrox, and we’re backing them to win this one at 4/5.

Can Wolves Win Group K?

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves are into the last 32, but top spot in Group K is still up for grabs. Braga are top with 11 points to their name, with Wanderers a point behind in second. Braga travel to Slovan Bratislava, while Wolves host Besiktas at Molineux.

Nuno’s boys have responded expertly well from their disappointing 1-0 home reverse to Braga on matchday one, going on to win three and draw one of their following four. They started the season slowly and many feared they could suffer from their European involvement but they have gone from strength to strength and now sit sixth in the Premier League. Considering that this is their first ever Europa League campaign, Wolves have done a fine job to reach the last 32 with a game spare whilst also doing brilliantly domestically.

Besiktas would have fancied their chances of progressing when the group was announced, but the Turkish side have had a tournament to forget. The Black Eagles lost their opening four Group K matches before claiming a late win over Bratislava at Vodafone Park in Istanbul last month. They have nothing to play for here and it is very hard to see them putting up too much fight.

Wolves have been in excellent form after a sluggish start to their season. A win on Thursday could see them win the group depending on the other result. We fancy Wolves to do their bit, with the home victory nicely priced at odds of 1/2 against opponents with nothing on the line.

  • Cluj v Celtic - Neil Lennon’s Celtic booked their spot in the Round of 32 with two matches left to play. The Scottish giants, who are enjoying another fine season, and have now won 10 domestic trophies in succession, end their group campaign with a trip to Romania to take on Cluj on Thursday. No matter what happens, the Bhoys have already won Group E, as they are four points clear of their opponents. Still, we can see Celtic ending on a high so back the away side to come out on top at very tempting odds of 11/4.
  • Man Utd v AZ Alkmaar - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man Utd welcome Arne Slot’s AZ Alkmaar to Old Trafford on Thursday. These two sides are already through, but either can still win Group L. The Red Devils were held to a 0-0 draw at the Cars Jeans Stadion in The Hague in October, but in-form United, boosted by their win at the weekend against Man City, should coast past the Dutch outfit at the Theatre of Dreams in midweek. Put some money on the home team to win -1 at 11/5.

About the Europa League

The UEFA Europa League (EL) is a pan-European football tournament sanctioned by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). UEFA hosts two similar events, with the Europa League the lower level competition, ranked behind the more prestigious, lucrative and longer established Champions League.

Until being rebranded in 2009 this tournament was known as the UEFA Cup but still held the same secondary status. Essentially the Europa League is the UEFA Cup, just with a different name, by which we mean that as far as UEFA’s own records go, the two are one and the same.

Now, you quite probably already knew those most basic of basic facts regarding this wonderful cup competition. However, below you can find an array of lesser-known information if you want to really brush up the Europa League (as we will now refer to the tournament both pre- and post-rebranding). That will include a more in-depth history of the competition, as well as some great trivia and one or two strategic betting pointers that might help you make a profit from betting on the EL.

Tournament Format

The Europa League may not get neutrals quite as excited as the Champions League but it remains a huge competition. It features a huge 48-team group phase and with 160 teams taking part in total (as of the 2018-19 season, as with all facts unless stated otherwise), it sometimes seems like there are endless Europa League games.

That’s great for punters, with masses of Thursday night football to enjoy and bet on, with kick-offs staggered too, meaning it’s easy to watch more than one game on the same evening. There is now more television coverage of the Europa League than ever before, so you really are spoiled for choice if you want to watch and bet on the EL.

As with its “big brother” the Champions League, the Europa League offers 12 months of football action if you include the earliest rounds. In 2018 the draw for the preliminary rounds was made all the way back on the 12th June. That saw 14 minnows of European football, such as Wales’ Cefn Druids and Engordany from Andorra, play their first games of that year’s tournament the same month.

With the final scheduled for the 29th May 2019, that’s almost a full year of action and a full year in which you can bet on the Europa League. Those earliest stages may not receive too much attention from punters and bookies but once the group phase begins in September the best football betting sites around really up their games.

Europa League Betting Strategy

Options for betting on these games can seem overwhelming, with a typical Thursday seeing literally thousands of markets over all the matches. So, where should you start when trying to have a bet or two on the Europa League and how can you seek to beat the bookies at what is, really, their own game?

We have loads and loads of betting strategy info on the site and you can see that in our main football strategy section. In essence, betting on the Champions League and Europa League are very, very similar. The Champions League may be a little more glamorous than the EL and take place earlier in the week; and the format of the competition is somewhat different. However, when it comes to strategic betting tips, the two are virtually interchangeable.

As such, rather than repeat ourselves, we suggest you take a look at our dedicated feature on the UEFA Champions League. If that sounds like too much effort, we’ll recap the most pertinent info here, perfect if you don’t want the full analysis.

Bet on the Early Stages

For those with local or specific knowledge about Europe’s minnows, or those really prepared to put the time and effort in, the preliminary and qualifying rounds might well serve up a tidy profit.

The bookies spend more time and money making their odds as accurate as possible for the games that attract the most money. Fewer punters bet on the EL before the group phase so if you know your stuff, this might be the best time to cash in.

Spain to Reign?

In the Champions League article we explained how backing Real Madrid every year might be the simplest effective betting tactic going. No side has dominated the EL in quite the same way, although Sevilla did win five times between 2006 and 2016, including three in a row from 2014.

Backing Sevilla won’t, therefore, work out but backing a Spanish side in the outright market could prove a similarly lucrative tactic. Spanish sides have won the EL 11 times, more than any other nation. Though 11 wins since 1971 might not sound that impressive, nine of those wins have come since 2004, including five wins between 2011-12 and 2017-18.

UEFA’s Technical Report?

In our guide to the Champions League we highlighted some developing trends that could offer an insight into betting on the competition. These trends are virtually spelled out in the annual technical report that UEFA produces for the CL.

Well, those generous analysts and stats geeks kindly also produce a report for the Europa League too. This can easily be found online and is sure to hold a wealth of information that will help out punters prepared to put in the groundwork.

History of the Europa League

The Europa League was founded in 1971 and, as said, was originally called the UEFA Cup. It was preceded by the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which was founded in 1955, the same year as the Champions League (then called the European Cup).

The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup was not a UEFA-sanctioned competition and started out with just 11 teams. It grew quite quickly though and by its final season 64 teams took part. This growth made UEFA feel the competition had real merit so they effectively took it over, relaunching it as the UEFA Cup for the 1971-72 campaign.

There were various tweaks over the years, with changes to format and size but for the 1999-2000 season we saw a really major alteration. Prior to then, there had been another major inter-European cup, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (CWC) for the winners of the major domestic cups in each UEFA country.

This merged into the Europa League after the 1998-99 season, leaving Lazio as the last side to win the CWC. In fact, this had only a relatively minor impact on the EL, simply hastening its expansion and altering the way in which teams qualified for it.

The Europa League is Born

In 2009 we saw a much bigger change, with the UEFA Cup rebranded as the Europa League for the 2009-10 season. As well as a change of name, the competition also saw the UEFA Intertoto Cup (IC) become merged into it. The IC hadn’t proved a huge success and was effectively a third – or even fourth – tier European competition and teams that would have played in that now entered the EL in its early rounds.

The Europa League, despite steadily growing more lucrative, still lagged a long way behind the CL in prestige, glamour and finances. This meant that many sides, especially top teams who felt they belonged in the CL, did not take the EL 100% seriously.

Many sides fielded weakened XIs, so in an attempt to make the Europa League seem less of a poisoned chalice and more of a competition clubs and fans could really buy into, UEFA decided to award the winners of the competition a place in the following season’s Champions League.

In 2015 Spain’s Sevilla became the first side to take advantage of this after they beat Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2 in Warsaw. Sevilla actually earned a spot directly into the group stage of the CL but that was only because the place reserved for the winners of the previous year’s CL wasn’t needed (finalists Juventus and Barcelona had already secured their group phase position via their league finish. Got all that?!).

In the 2017-18 season, seeking to further boost the prestige of the competition, UEFA once again decided to enhance the prize on offer to the winners of the Europa League. As of then and at the time of writing, the side lifting the EL will not only qualify for the Champions League but they will also be catapulted straight through to the group stage.

Format of the Europa League

As with most long-standing competitions in football, the precise format of the EL has been tweaked many times over the years. The biggest change was when the league/group format was introduced. Prior to the 1997-98 season, the Europa League was entirely a two-legged knockout competition, with even the final played home and away.

In 1998 Inter Milan won the first ever final at a neutral venue, beating Lazio 3-0 at the Parc des Prince in Paris. It wasn’t until the 2004–05 season that we really saw a major change though, with the introduction of a group phase.

Since then there have been yet more minor changes but the 2018-19 Europa League worked thus:

  • UEFA coefficients are used to determine the best national leagues
  • The higher ranked nations receive more places in the Europa League and enter the competition later on
  • Teams are also seeded at various points throughout the competition depending on the coefficient and their previous results
  • There are two pathways through qualifying, the Champions Path (for league champions) and the Main Path (for non-champions and cup winners)
  • Teams are divided by path in the second and third qualifying rounds, and the play-off round
  • 14 teams from low ranking nations compete home and away in the preliminary rounds
  • 7 sides progress to first qualifying round, joining 87 other higher ranked sides
  • The winning 47 of these sides are joined by 27 higher ranked sides in the second qualifying round, again playing home and away
  • The third qualifying round sees the 37 winners from the previous round and 13 teams entering at this round, plus two sides dropping down from the CL qualifying process
  • 42 teams compete in the play-off round, playing home and away to determine the final 21 teams progressing to the group stage
  • The Group stage sees these 21 join 10 sides dropping down from the CL plus 17 higher ranked clubs play in 12 groups of four
  • Each team in the group plays home and away for a total of six games each
  • The top two qualify for the last 32 where they are joined by eight third-placed Champions League group stage teams
  • From the last 32 until the final, the Europa League follows a standard cup knockout format, with ties decided over two legs; if level after two legs, the ties goes to extra time and then, if required, penalties
  • The final is a simple one-off game at a pre-decided venue

Facts & Figures

We’ve got 10 tidy Europa League facts, just to lighten things up in case you’ve heard enough complicated EL structure info about qualifying rounds to last you a lifetime!

  1. Second tier riches – prize money for the EL winners was €8.5m in the 2018-19 season, compared to €19m for the CL, but various bonuses along the way and TV money make the difference in riches much more substantial than that
  2. Winners – Sevilla have won the Europa League five times and never lost a final. Liverpool are one of four sides to have three titles to their name
  3. Losers – Benfica and Marseille hold the highly unwanted record for the most final appearances without winning the competition, both having lost three EL finals
  4. No Barca? – seven Spanish sides have appeared in the UEFA Cup/Europa League final but Barca aren’t one of them
  5. Wolves – the first ever Europa League final was held at Molineux Stadium as Wolves hosted Spurs in the first leg of the 1972 final
  6. Scorer – Sweden’s Henrik Larsson is the top goalscorer in the competition, notching 40 goals in 56 games for Feyenoord, Celtic and Helsingborg. Jupp Heynckes has the best EL goals per game record of any top striker though, with 1.095 goals per game
  7. Comeback Kings – In the 1975-76 EL Club Brugge lost the first leg 3-0 to Ipswich but won the return 4-0, the best comeback in the competition’s history
  8. Falcao – former Chelsea and Man United striker Radamel Falcao holds the record for most goals in a single EL season. He notched 17 for Porto in the 2010-11 campaign
  9. Appearances – Giuseppe Bergomi has made the most appearances in the competition, managing 96 for Inter, although he never managed to score
  10. Top Coach – Arsenal’s Unai Emery has coached a side 63 times (and counting) in the EL. That’s more than any other boss and he’s also lifted the trophy three times. Can he make that four with the Gunners?