The Europa League draw is always slightly overshadowed by its more glamorous cousin that precedes the event, but the addition of a European champion adds some intrigue to this year’s tournament.
Chelsea have been handed a reasonably kind draw against first Sparta Prague, and then either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest in the last 16.
Although these games are all eminently winnable under the guidance of former Uefa Cup and Champions League winner Rafa Benitez, big teams dropping down from the elite competition often struggle to motivate themselves for Thursday night football, so the Blues may not be the best bet to win the tournament at odds of 5/1 (6.00) with .
Atletico Madrid certainly offer better value for the same 5/1 (6.00) odds, as the holders know exactly what it takes to win this competition, and Diego Simeone’s men should be able to navigate games against Rubin Kazan and then either Levante or Olympiakos without too much trouble.
English teams are often accused of not taking this tournament seriously, but Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas has underlined his determination to recapture the trophy he lifted with Porto in 2011 by fielding strong line-ups throughout the group stages, and his side are among the favourites at 12/1 (13.00) to go all the way.
However, Spurs face a tough tie against Lyon in the first knockout stage, before potentially facing either Inter (who are third favourites at 10/1 (11.00) to win the tournament) or Cluj, who were unluckily eliminated from the Champions League.
Russian sides have done well in the Europa League over the last 10 years, and Liverpool will not be looking forward to visiting Zenit St Petersburg in their tie.
Luciano Spalletti’s men won this competition in 2008, and their expensively-assembled side are fancied at 16/1 (17.00) to overcome The Reds and return the trophy to Russia once again.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are also available at 16/1 (17.00), but with a relatively small squad filled with plenty of youngsters, they may find it difficult to get passed Zenit and then the daunting duo of either Dnipro or Basel in the next round.
Like Zenit, few will want to take on Anzhi, who have an impressive array of talent on display.
Coach Guus Hiddink is in his final year before retirement, and is a decent bet at 12/1 (13.00) to go out on a high with another European trophy.
Should the Russians get past Hannover, they may face Newcastle, who are quite rightly outsiders at 33/1 (34.00) considering Alan Pardew’s preference for resting key players in order to concentrate on faltering league performances.
Bayer Leverkusen versus Benfica should be one of the ties of the round, and they are priced up at 16/1 (17.00) and 20/1 (21.00) respectively.
Inconsistent Napoli should beat Viktoria Plzen, but may struggle against either Fenerbahce or BATE Borisov in the following round, so are perhaps best avoided at 12/1 (13.00).
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Al Hain-Cole is a Liverpool fan, experienced tipster and avid follower of European football. He specialises in accumulators and if you would like to read more from Al you can follow him on Twitter here.
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