The end of the first stage of the Europa League proper is nearly upon us. Now, I’m aware it’s not the most prestigious nor watched football competition however with Everton amongst the teams I have always wanted to do articles assessing the competition as it progresses. The first stage of that is taking a glance at how the groups are shaping up going into the crunch ties, exploring those ties and briefly explaining the story so far. Due to the sheer number of groups, I will split this into two weeks.
The Europa League is a much-maligned competition. The teams are not as good as those in the Champions League, the football is played in the graveyard of Europe on Thursday nights and the form of the English teams involved drops dramatically in the league, or at least that is how it is perceived. While there are truths in that, this year has shown that the competition is a wonderful one when it comes to surprises and attacking football. Plus, with the added bonus of Champions League qualification for the winner there is a purpose to playing your best players.
The group stage began on the 29th August when the 48 qualified teams were divided into 4 pots based upon their Uefa coefficient and one from each pot was drawn to form 12 groups. Shown below are the teams in pots 1 and 2 which were put into groups A-F. Note: all my tables and figures in this article will be taken from Wikipedia, hence the transition to wordpress may not be perfect (however it should be better than word is!)
And for pots 3&4.
So, now that you have the names of all the teams involved in this first review, let’s get down to the details of how the groups have unfolded. It is worth noting at this point the tiebreaker scenarios, should a team finish level on points with another the separating criteria is goal difference played in the matches between the sides in question. For example, if team B and C are level on points but in the matches between them, B beat C 4-1 away but lost 3-2 at home then B would have the superior goal difference in those matches. If that’s level then it goes to goals scored against the team in question, then goals scored away from home. If it’s still level after that then it comes to down to overall goal difference, total goals scored before finally being decided on their coefficient.
Story so far:
- Limassol beat Zürich 3-2 as Mönchengladbach and Villarreal play out a 1-1 draw
- Villarreal smash Limassol 4-0, Zürich and Mönchengladbach draw 1-1
- Villarreal continue goalscoring form, beat Zürich 4-1. Mönchengladbach beat Limassol 5-0. Villarreal 1st after 3 matches, Mönchengladbach 2nd, Limassol 3rd and Zürich 4th
- Zürich upset Villarreal 3-2, Limassol succumb 2-0 at home vs Mönchengladbach
- Villarreal and Mönchengladbach draw 2-2, Zürich beat Limassol 3-1
Group A remains tight going into the final stage of matches. Limassol are out, despite a winning start and that means that one of Mönchengladbach or Villarreal will be progressing to the next stage. Any of three teams can win the group, like any of the same three could depart. Zürich’s poor goal difference may hinder their progress as well as the fact they face a trip to Germany to play Mönchengladbach while Villarreal travel to Limassol.
Scenarios (Possible outcome in first match, possible outcome in second match (if relevant): who finishes top, who finishes second):
- Mönchengladbach win: Mönchengladbach, Villarreal
- Mönchengladbach draw, Villarreal win: Villarreal, Mönchengladbach
- Mönchengladbach draw, Villarreal draw: Mönchengladbach, Villarreal
- Zürich draw, Villarreal lose: Mönchengladbach, Villarreal (greater H2H GD)
- Zürich win, Villarreal win: Villarreal, Zürich
- Zürich win, Villarreal lose: Zürich, Mönchengladbach
- Zürich win, Villarreal draw: Zürich, Mönchengladbach (more H2H away goals)
Story so far:
- Copenhagen start with a 2-0 victory over HJK, Club Brugge and Torino draw 0-0
- HJK lose 3-0 to Club Brugge at home, Torino beat Copenhagen 1-0 in the 94th minute
- Torino beat HJK 2-0 while Club Brugge and Copenhagen draw 1-1
- HJK beat Torino 2-1, Copenhagen suffer a 4-0 home loss to Club Brugge
- HJK win again, this time beating Copenhagen 2-1 as Torino and Club Brugge draw 0-0
Once again, one team is out while any of the other three can qualify in any order. In another strange similarity with Group A, the eliminated team actually won their first round match. It shows that group stages are more about peaking at the right time then starting with a blast. HJK, who were bottom with 0 points after 3 matches, know that a convincing victory in Belgium against Club Brugge will probably see them into the next round while Torino travel to Copenhagen needing a victory to guarantee progress.
- Club Brugge win: Club Brugge, Torino
- Club Brugge draw, Torino win: Torino, Club Brugge
- Club Brugge draw, Torino draw/lose: Club Brugge, Torino
- HJK win by more than 3, Torino win: Torino, HJK
- HJK win by 3 or less, Torino win: Torino, Club Brugge
- HJK win by more than 3, Torino lose: HJK, Club Brugge
- HJK win by 3 or less, Torino lose: Club Brugge, HJK
- HJK win, Torino draw: All 3 on 9 points, placings dependent on result of final matches
Story so far:
- Partizan and Spurs draw 0-0, while Beşiktaş and Tripoli also draw, 1-1
- Tripoli beat Partizan 2-0 as Spurs and Beşiktaş play out a 1-1 draw
- Beşiktaş travel to Partizan and win 4-0, Spurs beat Tripoli 5-1
- Spurs beat Tripoli 2-1 in Greece, the same score that Beşiktaş defeat Partizan
- Tottenham beat Partizan 1-0 in London, Beşiktaş and Tripoli draw 2-2
Luckily this group is a lot more straightforward than the previous two. Spurs and Beşiktaş are already qualified, leaving all that needs to be decided is where they finish. As you may have worked out, Beşiktaş host Spurs in a straight shoot out for top spot in what should be a wonderful match to watch. The other match is the description of dead rubber, as Partizan and Tripoli have nothing but pride to play for.
- Tottenham win/draw: Tottenham, Beşiktaş
- Beşiktaş win: Beşiktaş, Tottenham
|1||Red Bull Salzburg||5||4||1||0||+9||13|
Story so far:
- Zagreb destroy Astra 5-1, Celtic and Red Bull draw 2-2
- Red Bull travel to Astra and win 2-1, Celtic beat Zagreb 1-0
- Celtic host Astra and prevail 2-1 as Red Bull clinch a 4-2 home victory over Zagreb
- Astra get their first point: a 1-1 draw with Celtic, while Red Bull spank Zagreb 5-1
- Red Bull beat Celtic 3-1 in Glasgow, Astra beat Zagreb 1-0
Further evidence, if required, that starting well doesn’t guarantee success as Zagreb went from winning 5-1 to losing their next 4 matches. In truth, this was always going to be a hard group for them and Astra because Celtic and Red Bull had both lost in the qualifying rounds for the Champions League. It is therefore unsurprising that both have booked their place in the next round, and, as Red Bull won the group in Glasgow, there is nothing left for anyone to play for. Expect to see Celtic take a youth team to Zagreb and I don’t imagine that Salzburg will be at full strength while hosting Astra
Scenario: – Salzburg have won the group regardless, Celtic will finish second
Story so far:
- PSV beat Estoril 1-0, Dynamo beat Panathinaikos 2-1
- Dynano defeated PSV 1-0, Estoril shocked Panathinaikos 2-0
- PSV and Panathinaikos drew 1-1 as Estoril lost 2-1 at home to Dynamo
- PSV won a thriller 3-2 in Greece over Panathinaikos, Dynamo beat Estoril 1-0
- Dynamo beat Panathinaikos 2-1 while Estori and PSV drew 3-3 in heavy rain
One of these strange groups that only the Europa League throws up. Panathinaikos, a team with recent Champions League experience are almost guaranteed to finish bottom of the group while Estoril, an unknown quantity to most have not embarrassed themselves. Dyanmo Moscow have a 100% record, the only team in the competition who can boast that. They have won 2-1, 1-0, 2-1, 1-0, 2-1 so what’s the betting they will beat PSV 1-0 in Holland? Estoril travel to Greece, fresh from a dramatic 3-3 draw against PSV which was abandoned at half time due to heavy rain. It was 3-2 to the Portuguese side at the time, a testament to how well they’ve done in this competition. Unfortunately for them, they cannot qualify as this group is identical to the last.
Scenario: – Dynamo Moscow have won the group regardless, PSV will finish second
Story so far:
- Inter beat Dnipro in Ukraine 1-0, Qarabağ and Saint-Étienne drew 0-0
- Saint-Étienne again drew 0-0, this time against Dnipro, as Inter beat Qarabağ 2-0
- Qarabağ travelled to Dnipro and won 1-0 as Saint-Étienne again drew 0-0 (v Inter)
- Dnipro got revenge with a 2-1 win over Qarabağ, Saint-Étienne and Inter drew 1-1
- Another draw for Saint-Étienne, 1-1 with Qarabağ. Inter beat Dnipro 2-1
Saint-Étienne have drawn all 5 of their matches, which for me steals the headlines in Group F. The only Azerbaijani side left, Qarabağ, have done incredibly well to stay ahead of two established European teams, which deserves a mention. Inter have won the group, regardless of results in the final matches however second place could go to any of the three teams left hence why this is probably the most exciting group of the first half. Qarabağ are in second but face a tough visit from Inter (however, will the blue Milan side take a strong team?) which will give hope to Dnipro and Saint-Étienne who meet in Ukraine.
- Inter win, Saint-Étinne win/draw: Inter, Saint-Étinne
- Inter win/draw, Dnipro win: Inter, Dnipro
- Inter draw, Saint-Étinne win: Inter, Saint-Étinne
- Inter draw, Saint-Étinne draw: Inter, Qarabağ (more H2H away goals)
- Qarabağ win, Saint-Étinne win: Inter, Qarabağ (more H2H away goals)
- Qarabağ win, Dnipro win/draw: Inter, Qarabağ
All the matches from this round are the earlier kick-off, so that’s either 5 or 6 UK time next Thursday. Tottenham’s crunch match in Turkey will be live on ITV4 should you so desire to watch some action. While that promises to be a good match, there are some other tasty ties to look forward to. I certainly will be keeping my eyes on Groups A,B and F as they have the possibility to change every time a goal goes in. There is no doubt in my mind that the most exciting time in a cup competition is the final round of group matches and hopefully next thursday will be a perfect showcase of why.
The aim of this was to provide readers with background information about each team and group, as well as to outline the possibilities next thursday. With any luck, you’ve found it informative as well as interesting and will come back to read the next part of this feature.
Watch out for next week where I explore how the holders aren’t guaranteed to make it through the group yet the lowest ranked side in terms of coefficients could. Also, how Everton have made a tough group look pretty ordinary.