UEFA Europa League Group Stage Predictions: Arsenal to ease through, Tricky for the Toffees
As the UEFA Champions League grows more competitive and unpredictable by the season, so too has the difficulty level increased in Europe's subsidiary club competition, the UEFA Europa League. This term the tournament will welcome Arsenal for the first time along with other top level names from across the continent.
The draw for the group stages of the competition has now taken place and the first round of matches are due to kick-off on the 14th September. Without further ado, here is our I see the first stage of the 2017/18 Europa League unfolding...
Last campaign Villarreal paid the price for finishing second in their Europa League group, after they were comfortably dispatched 4-1 on aggregate in the knockout phase by a dominant Roma side. The acquisitions of Carlos Bacca, Ruben Semedo and Pablo Fornals have undoubtedly strengthened the spine of the team and the Spaniards are clear favourites to top a mediocre group consisting of Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Astana and Slavia Prague this time around.
Second spot in the group really could go to any of the other three but, based on recent experience of the competition, Maccabi Tel-Aviv are my favourites to progress to the knockout stages; they were unfortunate to not do so last season in a challenging group and they should create an intimidating atmosphere, albeit at their temporary Netanya Stadium in Israel. Both Astana and Slavia Prague looked very disappointing in the Champions League playoff round, the former conceding far too many and the latter appearing very shot-shy.
1st - Villareal
2nd - Maccabi Tel-Aviv
3rd - Astana
4th - Slavia Prague
One of the more open combinations in the competition's earliest stage, Group B is comprised of Dynamo Kiev, Young Boys, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia and Albania's most successful side Skenderbreu.
Having endured four rounds of qualifying which climaxed with an impressive away goals victory over Dinamo Zagreb, Skenderbreu will be competing in just their second Europa League competition but will likely be the whipping boys of this group.
As for the other three, the top two spots are for the taking. The tight trio have all had good starts to their domestic campaigns, with Dynamo Kiev and Partizan Belgrade having won ten out of twelve games between them so far, whilst Young Boys sit second in the Swiss top tier.
Their Hungarian opposition Videoton were by no means the fiercest of opponents but Partizan Belgrade looked water-tight in their 4-0 aggregate win in the Europa League playoffs and are very experienced in European football. Dynamo Kiev finished rock bottom of their group in the Champions League last term and have a good opportunity to rectify such disappointment; their success will rely heavily on forward Andriy Yarmolenko who was their top scorer in all competitions last term (19 goals).
On paper Young Boys are a lot weaker than their Serbian and Ukrainian counterparts but dispatched the latter in Champions League qualifying by virtue of away goals and a lack of expectation could play to their advantage.
1st - Partizan Belgrade
2nd - Young Boys
3rd - Dynamo Kiev
4th - Skenderbreu