The Europa League has been whittled down to 16 remaining teams after several big names crashed out of the competition this week. Italian league leaders Napoli fell by the wayside, but big teams like Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund survived scares to progress. There are now some tasty draws for the next round and it is sure to attract plenty of attention from punters.
Who Got A Tough Draw?
The standout tie of the last 16 has to be Arsenal v AC Milan, which pits two underperforming giants of the European game against one another. This is the first time Arsenal have missed out on Champions League football in Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure, while AC Milan have long since fallen behind the likes of Juventus, Napoli and Roma in Serie A. They spent a fortune in the summer to try to bridge the gap, but it has been a bit of a disaster as Milan are down in seventh, 25 points off the ace.
It is a similar story for Arsenal, who are 26 points behind Man City in the Premiership and sitting in sixth. However, it is fair to say that the Premiership is a lot stronger than Serie A nowadays, and Arsenal are the favourites to progress to the quarter-finals. All the other big teams in the draw were kept apart, and most will fancy their chances of reaching the last eight.
Who Got Off Light In Draw?
Atletico Madrid did well to avoid the likes of Arsenal, Dortmund or the Italian clubs and they will face a pretty uninspiring Lokomotiv Moscow side. They lead their domestic league, but teams from Russia typically struggle in away legs in European competition and Atletico should progress. Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig, fresh from vanquishing Napoli, earned a tie against Zenit St Petersburg. Lazio face Dynamo Kiev and they should get through that one, while Dortmund must play Red Bull Salzburg. Lyon are up against CSKA Moscow, while Marseille face Athletic Bilbao and Sporting are up against Plzen. It is hard luck on Arsenal and Milan that they were drawn against one another, while teams like Plzen and Sporting ended up together.
Who Will Qualify?
As a quick accumulator, how about Atletico, Dortmund, Lazio, RB Leipzig and Sporting to all progress? Lyon are inconsistent and may struggle in Moscow, so that looks a tough one to call, while Marseille should scrape past Athletic Bilbao. Arsenal are experts at creating problems for themselves, but if Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jack Wilshere are on song, they should be able to get past Milan.
What Looks A Good Futures Bet?
It is really difficult to see anyone preventing Atletico Madrid from winning this competition. Put simply, they are far too good for the Europa League. Diego Simeone’s men are second in La Liga, just a few points behind Barcelona and well ahead of European champions Real Madrid. They have the best defensive record in any of Europe’s top five leagues, and it is crazy to think they are no longer in the Champions League. They typically get to the semi-finals or the final, and it is strange to see them absent from the draw. They battered FC Copenhagen in the last Europa League round, as Simeone fielded a strong side in both legs, and they should be able to comfortably beat any of the remaining teams. They went into 5/2 after the draw was made, with bookmakers like Ladbrokes and Bet Victor, while Arsenal and Dortmund drifted out to 6/1 with Stan James and others.
Dortmund’s squad is in need of a cash injection, while Lyon are a shadow of their former selves in European competition, and RB Leipzig are not on the same level as Atletico. A really fired-up Arsenal could give the Madrid side a game, but it is likely that Atletico would be far too disciplined, strong and tactically astute for the Gunners to handle. They look a great futures bet to win this competition. If you want a longer shot, you might consider Lazio at around the 11/1 or 12/1 mark. They are superb going forwards and have recorded several great results in Serie A this season, so they are a real wild card in this tournament.