While Champions League remains the elite stage for European professional soccer clubs, UEFA’s secondary tournament — the Europa League — has been trending upwards over the last couple decades. Formerly known as the UEFA Cup, the tournament was rebranded as the Europa League during the 2009-10 season. The first qualifying round begins with 104 teams, but it’s the group stage when the real action begins as the clubs are whittled down to 48. The knockout phase consists of 32 teams — 12 winners from the group stage and 12 runners-up from the group stage.
Eight third-place teams from the Championships League group stage are also included.
Twenty-seven different teams have won the tournament, 12 of which have won the title on more than one occasion. The most dominant team has been Spanish side Sevilla, which has captured three straight championships and will be gunning for a fourth when group stage action begins in the fall.
In total, Sevilla has five Europa League titles — more than any other team. Liverpool of the English Premier League along with Serie A sides Juventus and Internazionale are all deadlocked at three championships apiece.
Former Swedish striker Henrik Larsson is the tournament’s all-time goal scoring leader with 40 tallies in 56 UEFA Cup/Europa League matches. Schalke 04 striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of the Netherlands is gaining ground with 33 goals.
Keeping track of the group play standings is paramount before making any wagers.The top two clubs from each group stage division advances to the knockout phase.
When looking at the standings, expect to see the usual suspects at the top. Of the early participants, Manchester United, Inter, Athletic Club and Southampton should be contending for first-seed positioning.
Under new manager Jorge Sampaoli, Sevilla will once again be favorites to win another title, depending how it performs in the Champions League.
Sevilla, however, will have to face a stiffer competition this time around as Manchester United will also contest for a championship. Other teams considered favorites include Inter, Schalke and Zurich.
But things could change depending how things play out in the Champions League. For instance, if a team like Juventus, Atletico Madrid or Paris St-Germain falter on the Champions League stage, the door would be wide open for either of those clubs to make a run at a Europa League crown.
The first set of group play matches will begin on Sept. 15, with the knockout stage slated for February 2017. The round of 16 is set for March 2017 and the quarterfinals are scheduled for April.
The Europa League final will be played at Friends Arena in Solna, Sweden on May 24.
Ready to bet on the Europa League? Here are some online sportsbook options to assist you with all your betting needs.