The dark horses of this season’s Europa League
The knockout stages of the Europa League get underway this week and we have taken a look at some potential dark horses that could go all the way,
The likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Sevilla are among the big names that will dominate the betting markets when it comes to potential winners of the Europa League, but it is a tournament that tends to have a bit more of an unpredictable look when compared to its big brother, the Champions League.
We have cast are eye over three slightly more left-field alternatives that could enjoy an extended run in this season’s competition.
Scottish teams have struggled to have any real impact in European competitions over recent years although the presence of both Celtic and Rangers in the knockout stages of this season’s Europa League appears to indicate a potential renaissance north of the border.
Celtic certainly impressed during the group stage, recording home and away victories over Serie A title chasers Lazio, while their only defeat in this season’s competition came against Cluj after they had already booked their place in the knockout stages.
Neil Lennon’s side are also on a nine-match unbeaten run since returning from their winter break and have been handed a favourable draw in the knockout stages against Danish club FC Copenhagen.
Given Celtic look well placed to secure a ninth successive Scottish Premiership title this season, they could soon be able to turn all their focus to the Europa League and no team in Europe will relish taking on the Bhoys on a special European night at Parkhead.
Spanish outfit Getafe were one of the surprise teams in La Liga last season as they finished fifth and secured a return to the European stage for the first time in nine years.
However, they have been going even better this season and only Real Madrid and Barcelona are above them in the domestic standings, while they were also able to negotiate their way through a Europa League group that contained Basel, Krasnodar and Trabzonspor.
The recent 3-0 thrashing of Valencia (a game where they could of scored five or six) shows what a good team Getafe are, but they have been handed a tough-looking draw in the knockout stages against last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax.
However, the Dutch are not the team they were last season and Getafe will be a side everyone will want to avoid if they do make it through to the latter stages.
🔥 Round of 32 draw 🔥
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— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) December 16, 2019
Alkmaar have emerged as the surprise rivals to Ajax at the top of the Eredivisie standings this season and have been able to juggle domestic consistency with a successful run in the Europa League.
Arne Slot’s side secured a credible draw with Manchester United during the group stage, as well as scoring a combined 11 goals in home and away victories over Astana.
A favourable draw against LASK Linz appears to be just reward for their Europa League progress and they are the joint-top scorers in this season’s competition, with teenager Myron Boadu perhaps proving their biggest threat with five strikes to his name.
However, one note of caution would be that AZ have lost their last two games, which could mean they are out of form, or maybe they have already turned their focus to the Europa League.