The UEFA Champions League returned to the fore on Valentine’s Day and there were big wins for Bayern Munich and AC Milan, who defeated Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. The following evening, Borussia Dortmund defeated Chelsea by a solitary Karim Adeyemi goal to nil, while Benfica dominated Club Brugge in Belgium. For the second year in a row, however, Barcelona will not feature in the knockout stages of European football’s elite competition.
The Blaugrana instead headed into the knockout stages of the Europa League, and they did so as second-favourites for glory. But with a squad containing some of the best La Liga youngsters such as Pedri and Gavi, progression past Manchester United and into the quarterfinals of the competition will surely catapult the Catalonians into the position of favourites. But who are their contenders for the crown this season?
Arsenal are the current favourites for the Europa League this season, and it’s clear to see why. The Gunners have led the Premier League all season long however they were recently usurped by reigning champions Manchester City who picked up a 3-1 victory at the Emirates despite being outplayed for long periods. The Gunners returned to the top spot with a come from behind victory at Villa Park last weekend. Should Mikel Arteta’s side continue to be embroiled in a title fight, they may have to turn their attention to domestic matters rather than continental ones.
Juventus are also among the favourites for the Europa League this term. They were relegated to the Europa League after finishing behind PSG and Benfica in Group H of the Champions League. The Bianconeri have been in turmoil this season, with their entire board of directors resigning back in November. But they have recently returned to form, and should that form continue then they will be a threat to Barca’s hopes of a first Europa League success in the club’s history.
Finally, no article of the Europa League is complete without a mention of Sevilla. The Andalusians have made the competition their own in the last two decades, and have lifted the trophy on no less than six occasions, and every final they have played in, they’ve won. Admittedly, they are struggling domestically, and currently lie down in 12th in the La Liga table. But Thursday night’s could provide welcome respite from their domestic woes, as they proved with a 3-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven in the first leg of the knockout round last week.