The 2015 – 2016 Europa League Group Stage Draw: Which Teams Are Set up Well for Knockout Stage Advancement?
It’s always tricky to predict how the UEFA Europa League will play out, largely due to the fact that even after the group stage has been played, the tournament frontrunners could still be coming from elsewhere. Indeed, the tradition of incorporating the third-placed teams from each of the Champions League groups lends an air of unpredictability to the action in the annual Europa League tournament that you don’t necessarily get in the UCL. Quite simply, with the Europa League, you never know who might emerge as a major contender. However, following the 2015 – 2016 Europa League group stage draw we take a look at the likely winners and losers.
In the UEL, it’s particularly pivotal for football clubs to win their groups, instead of to advance to the knockout stages by finishing second. Second-placed teams are left unseeded for the knockouts, which can result in very difficult draws against either top UEL group stage finishers, or tough-to-beat UCL teams.
The Good Draws
So who got the good draws this year? Which soccer squads should have easy paths not just to knockout stage advancement, but to the very top spots in their groups?
Borussia Dortmund might be our early favorites for the 2015 – 2016 Europa League title. The German football club struggled a lot last year, finishing in seventh place in the Bundesliga and not even earning direct qualification into the UEL group stage. But the Black and Yellows tore it up in the qualifying rounds (their last qualifier, against Norwegian club Odds BK, saw a 7-2 victory), and have gotten off to a tremendous start in the 2015 – 2016 Bundesliga. Drawn into Group C—which also includes PAOK, Krasnodar, and Gabala—Borussia Dortmund seem guaranteed to be one of the big winners of the early stages.
Italy’s Napoli also look to have a fairly easy group stage campaign ahead of them. Drawn into Group D alongside Belgium’s Club Brugge, Poland’s Legia Warsaw, and Denmark’s FC Midtjylland, Napoli are virtually guaranteed knockout stage advancement. Despite only finishing in fifth place in the 2014 – 2015 Italian Serie A division, Napoli made it all the way to the semifinals of last year’s Europa League, before being eliminated by Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in a close two-leg battle. Incidentally, Club Brugge were also eliminated by Dnipro in the 2014 – 2015 UEL, bowing out of the tournament in the quarters. Those two teams will fight each other for the top spot in Group D, but expect to see both in the round of 32.
Another clear groups stage frontrunner is Villarreal. The Spanish soccer club reached the round of 16 last year before being eliminated by ultimate tournament champs, Sevilla. However, Villarreal have been drawn into Group E, which includes two teams that bowed out of last year’s tournament in the qualifying rounds (Viktoria Pizen and Rapid Wien), and one squad that bottomed out in the groups (Dinamo Minsk).
Elsewhere, expect Olympique Marseille to dominate Group F (which also consists of Portugal’s SC Braga, the Czech Republic’s Slovan Liberec, and Dutch football club Groningen). We also predict Schalke 04 to score an easy win in group K (over Cyprus club APOEL, Czech’s Sparta Prague, and Greek team Asteros Tripoli), and recent Spanish Super Cup victors Athletic Bilbao to triumph in group L (against Netherlands squad AZ, Germany’s Augsburg, and Serbia’s Partizan).
For the most part, the 2015 – 2016 Europa League group stage draw has put together some tough, competitive matchups that are difficult to predict. For instance, in Group A, AFC Ajax, Celtic, and Fenerbachce could all be potential winners and bet-worthy round of 32 participants. B, which features Rubin Kazan, Liverpool, and Bordeaux, could all come down to which football club had a more fruitful summer transfer season.
Big questions abound elsewhere, too. For instance, will Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk replicate their impressive campaign from last season’s Europa League, or will they be bested by group stage opponents Lazio and Saint-Etienne? Is Sporting CP, Besiktas, or Lokomotiv Moscow the frontrunner in Group H? Who has the upper hand between Basel and Fiorentina in Group I? And will Tottenham Hotspur—who have gotten off to a slow start in the 2015 – 2016 English Premier League—be able to fight off Anderlecht and Monaco in Group J?
Excited for Europa League competition to get underway? The tournament starts on September 17th. In the meantime, prepare to support your favorite club with a new football jersey from Soccer Box—from the Liverpool jersey 2015 – 2016 to the Athletic Bilbao 2015 – 2016 home shirt, we’ve got you covered. You can also join us on social media to share your 2015 – 2016 UEL predictions, chat with other soccer fans, or get other news updates in the football world. You can find Soccer Box on several social networks including Instagram, Pinterest, and Google +.