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 Ante Post Betting Tips 2020-2021
The 2020-21 UEFA Europa League promises to be a thrilling competition and whilst it can’t quite match the Champions League it still serves up some high class football. The tournament started in August, with the qualifying rounds taking place before last season’s final!
The final is set to take place at the Stadion Energa Gdansk in Poland next May and once again the winners will gain automatic entry into the following season’s Champions League. London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are among the early favourites to lift the trophy. Leicester City are the other Premier League representatives, whilst the likes of AC Milan, Napoli and Villarreal will also hope to go far. And then of course we also have the sides who will drop down from the Champions League later in the competition.
The Story Last Season
Europa League specialists Sevilla won the competition for a record sixth time last season. The Spanish side beat Inter Milan 3-2 at the RheinEnergieStadion in a thrilling final in Cologne in August. The tournament moved to Germany for the latter stages and was a huge success but everyone hopes that tournament format will remain a one off.
Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers both made it to Germany. Wolves were beaten 1-0 by Sevilla in the quarter finals, while United fell at the next hurdle to the eventual winners. Shakhtar Donetsk did superbly well to reach the last four, though they were hammered 5-0 by Antonio Conte’s Inter in Dusseldorf.
Who Will Win the 2020-21 Europa League?
The Europa League might play second fiddle to bigger brother the UEFA Champions League, but this tournament is going from strength to strength each year. With a place in the 2021-22 Champions League up for grabs for the winners, this is a trophy well worth having in the cabinet.
We will cast our eye over the ante post betting and although we do not advise against an early punt we must issue a slight caveat. As alluded to earlier, the format of this competition means that at the last 32 stage, eight new teams will effectively enter the competition, dropping down from the Champions League. So, there is every chance that the eventual winner won’t even be among the known contenders right now. None the less, that only adds to the value available if you can call things right early, so here are the current market leaders.
Arsenal – 10/1
Arsenal could be going places under Mikel Arteta this season, especially if, as seems increasingly likely, they can hold onto Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. The Gunners are only in the Europa League after winning the 2020 Emirates FA Cup, but the bookies have the London giants as their favourites to win the competition before a ball has been kicked in the group stage.
Arteta has done a fine job at the Emirates Stadium since arriving as boss at the end of last year and recently added the Community Shield to the Gunners’ trophy cabinet as well. Getting back into the top four will be first priority, but Arsenal will also be looking to go far in Europe this season. The Gunners are available at 10/1 to win the competition and given their cup pedigree that may be a good bet.
Tottenham Hotspur – 12/1
After a number of years in the Champions League, Tottenham have to settle for a place in the Europa League this season. Spurs, who were Champions League finalists in 2019, had a poor 2019-20 campaign on all fronts.
Nevertheless, Jose Mourinho is as experienced as they come, and we are expecting the north London outfit to be there or thereabouts in the race for the Europa League title. Mourinho won this competition while at Manchester United in 2017. Currently, you can get tasty odds of 12/1 for Spurs to win the Europa League in 2021.
AC Milan – 14/1
Italian giants AC Milan are also among the favourites to lift the trophy at the time of writing. Milan, managed by Stefano Pioli, are always ones to watch out for in cup competitions. I Rossoneri finished sixth in Serie A last term, but they will be targeting a Champions League place this time around and a good run in this competition too.
At 14/1, AC Milan are certainly worth checking out. The San Siro outfit have a star-studded team, which will be eager to impress after a year’s absence from Europe due to financial fair play problems. Can Milan win a European trophy for the first time since 2007?
Napoli – 14/1
Also available at 14/1 are Milan’s Serie A rivals Napoli. The club from Naples won the Coppa Italia last term as well as reaching the Round of 16 of the Champions League. However, they finished in seventh in Serie A and so find themselves in this competition with a point to prove.
The popular Gennaro Gattuso, a Milan legend who moved from the north to take charge here in 2019, is sure to get the best out of his players this term. Can Napoli be a force in Italy and in Europe? 14/1 is a very tempting price but at the time of writing a number of Napoli’s best players are strongly linked with moves away from the club, so it would be something of a risk.
Villarreal – 18/1
Former Arsenal boss Unai Emery is in charge of Villarreal these days. The Spanish side finished in fifth position in La Liga last term, booking their place in this season’s Europa League. Emery won this competition three times as manager of Sevilla but after a so-so time in charge at PSG and then struggling at Arsenal he is now seeking to rebuild his reputation as a top manager.
On their day, Villarreal are capable of beating anyone and that could see them go far in this competition. It will be very interesting to see how Emery gets on at the Estadio de la Ceramica after failing with Arsenal in the Premier League. The bookies are pricing the Yellow Submarine at 18/1 to lift the Europa League trophy at the end of this season and given the achievements of their boss that could offer some real value.
Bayer Leverkusen – 20/1
Bayer Leverkusen had a fine 2019-20 season in the Bundesliga, although Peter Bosz’s men will have been disappointed to have missed out on qualification for the Champions League. In the end, Bayer finished fifth in the Bundesliga but they will certainly feel this is a piece of silverware they could win.
Leverkusen were runners-up in the DFB-Pokal as well reaching the last eight of the Europa League last term, so they are definitely a decent cup side. Can the German outfit go far once again? At the moment, Bosz’s boys are nicely priced at big odds of 20/1 to win the Europa League.
Who Has an Outside Chance?
So many top sides are participating in this season’s Europa League, but will we see a surprise winner? A whole host of smaller clubs will fancy their chances, including Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester and Christopher Galtier’s Lille.
Leicester City – 25/1
Leicester spent the vast majority of last season in the top four of the Premier League and looked nailed on for a spot in the 2020-21 Champions League. However, they were disappointing in the second half of the campaign, eventually losing out on a top four place on the final day of the season, losing 2-0 at home to Man Utd.
Despite that, it was still a particularly good season for the Foxes. Rodgers is without doubt one of the best managers in the Premier League, and Leicester will surely have a good go at the Europa League this term. Rodgers’ boys are available at 25/1 to go all the way and given the spirit the Foxes have that is sure to tempt many who know full well the East Midlanders know how to upset the odds.
Lille – 40/1
Lille were in the Champions League last season, though they were knocked out in the group stage. They also reached the semi-finals of the Coupe de la Ligue. With the season cut short in France, Lille missed out on a top three finish and a place in Europe’s elite club competition by just one point.
Galtier is an accomplished coach, guiding Lille to second and fourth in Ligue 1 in his first two full seasons in charge. Les Dogues could be a force to be reckoned with in France this term, while you can get the big odds of 40/1 for the French outfit to win the 2020-21 Europa League. As with other clubs just below the continental elite, many of their players are wanted by bigger sides but if they keep their stars they could just cause a real upset in the 2020-21 Europa League.
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.
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!
- 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
- 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
- Losers – Benfica and Marseille hold the highly unwanted record for the most final appearances without winning the competition, both having lost three EL finals
- No Barca? – seven Spanish sides have appeared in the UEFA Cup/Europa League final but Barca aren’t one of them
- Wolves – the first ever Europa League final was held at Molineux Stadium as Wolves hosted Spurs in the first leg of the 1972 final
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Appearances – Giuseppe Bergomi has made the most appearances in the competition, managing 96 for Inter, although he never managed to score
- 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?