With the knockout stages about to start it’s time for us to have a quick look at the teams that have the best chance to steal the headlines and those that are likely to disappoint.
Highly unlikely to make the top four in the Premier League, Arsenal know that their best chance to play Champions League football next season is if they win this competition. These circumstances mean that Wenger is likely to field competitive teams in a tournament which had the season gone differently, might not be such a priority.
The Gunners had the best winter transfer window of just about all the big teams. Indeed with Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang available for the Europa League, Arsenal’s forward quartet looks really menacing. Even when going with youngsters in the group stages Arsenal scored 14 goals in 6 matches and averaged 15.5 shots per game, plus 62.6% possession. With the involvement of more first team players, from here on, those stats should improve yet further.
There is a healthy rivalry for places in the squad and the likes of Wilshire and Lacazette just two of those eager to impress with World Cup on the horizon. They are likely to be heavily involved in Europa League.
Defensively things remain problematic, not to mention Arsenal’s away form being bizarrely poor all season. That said, over two legs and against teams not as strong as those playing in the Champions League the Gunners should be able to go a long way.
Lokomotiv top the Russian Premier League by 8 points and with good reason. The Railwaymen have been playing steady, solid football all season, defensive organisation being their main characteristic. Lokomotiv top the charts for successful tackles per game (17.2) in the Europa League group stages. The other stat that is impressive is the amount of times they have come back from losing positions already this campaign – in 28 official games in all competitions the Railwaymen have trailed 16 times, but only lost 5 times.
The other impressive stat regarding Lokomotiv is their goals/attempts rate. 3.3 attempts on goal to find the back of the net throughout the campaign permits them to deploy compact formations which are extremely hard to break down. Loko could be the surprise package in the competition this season.
Atletico de Madrid
The standout second best team in Spain this season, Atletico have only 1 defeat to their name after 23 rounds. They have become accustomed to being trophy-contenders in Europe in recent years and despite the disappointment suffered in the Champions League in the autumn, Simeone’s men are hungry for glory in a competition which is highly regarded in Spain.
The arrival of the lethal striker Diego Costa in January will boost the scoring stats of a team known as one of the best defensively on the continent. With Costa eager to shine in an attempt to win a place in the World Cup goals seem certain.
With goals promised up front and continuing defensive stability unmatched by anyone in Europe, Atletico average 22.9 successful tackles and 13.6 interceptions per match this season. The Red and Whites seem to have all pieces of the puzzle to challenge for this trophy.
Borussia have shown some alarming defensive frailties over the last four months and even with managerial changes things haven’t improved much for the Bumblebees. The fact that arguably the two best players in the team, Dembele and Aubameyang have left the club suggests that a tough rebuilding process is underway in Dortmund.
The main concern for Borussia in this competition is how engaged they will be as they are involved in a gruelling Bundesliga battle with six other teams for just three Champions League places. As things stand, five teams including Borussia, are within just four points of each other and without a doubt the main priority for Stoger will be the domestic competition.
The lack of depth and absence of adequate attacking options don’t give reason for optimism. The fact is that Batshuayi is the only typical centre forward in the first team with his cover being the 18-year-old Isak.
Napoli are all about winning their first Serie A title since the 80s this season and with a single point separating them and Juventus, the Europa League is seen as an unwanted distraction by the Blues.
In previous years Napoli’s president has clearly stated his lack of interest in this secondary European competition. After being knocked out of the Champions League in December he made it clear that all efforts need to go into becoming champions of Italy for the first time since the glory days of Maradona.
Expect to see significantly weakened teams playing in Napoli colours in the Europa League. Further to this, despite having good depth and a very effective style of football, the Italians tend to be naïve defensively. This fact was confirmed by the lack of draws in the group stages of the Champions League and the 11 goals conceded in 6 matches.
Attendance figures in the Europa League have historically been very low for Napoli. In previous years that the team have played in this competition their stadium has only been filled to only 56.4% of its capacity. All of the above suggests that the team’s presence in Europe will be ending soon.
Celtic really struggle due to the lack of adequate competition in their domestic league. Despite having one of the best atmospheres at home in Europe, the Green and Whites tend to be naïve on their travels. The combination of these two facts indicate that they won’t be involved for too long on the continental stage once things get serious.
Stats comparisons clearly show how different things are for Celtic domestically and in Europe. In Scotland they average 17.1 shots per game and enjoy 61.6% possession, whilst in the group stages of the Champions League they achieved just 8.8 shots per match and had the ball for less than 45% of the time.
The defensive stats show a similar trend and as Celtic are rarely tested by quality opposition, when they do meet stronger sides, they struggle to cope. Their Europa League adventure will be short lived.
With the knockout stage about to start it's time f...