Europa League: The 5 favourites for the trophy this season

Europa League
(Image credit: PA)

The Europa League is always difficult to predict - especially from the very beginning when we don't know all of the teams present in the competition. 

Take last year's edition of the tournament. Both Arsenal and Tottenham looked like two of the stronger teams in the Europa, with fans of both perhaps hoping for a North London Derby in the final (well, the more confident among them). When Manchester United dropped into the tournament from the Champions League, suddenly, there was a new favourite in town.

QUIZ! Can you name every club in the Europa League 2021/22?

And who did the title go to? Unai Emery. Of course. With both the usual winners in Emery and Sevilla otherwise engaged in Champions League football this season - and looking at favourable groups, too - we could well have a change in Europe's second-biggest competition... 

1. Leicester City

Brendan Rodgers

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Well, this would certainly be one way to get into the Champions League, regardless of the annual late-season collapse.

Brendan Rodgers has never had the best success in Europe but with Leicester City boasting arguably their deepest and most exciting squad, fans will be interested to see how the club attack Europe this season - not least Gary Lineker, who quit BT Sport to follow them on their travels. Going out to Sparta Prague last time around was a major disappointment: now that this Leicester team have proved they can compete for silverware, is the Europa a realistic target?

Of the teams that will start the competition, the Foxes are arguably the best. The focus has to be the league but with four much richer, much more experienced sides in England - not to mention the likes of Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham all pushing for Europa spots - perhaps putting an egg or two in this basket could stand the Midlands side in good stead. 

2. Napoli

Dries Mertens

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Napoli's current squad won't get many more chances. Dries Mertens is 34, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kostas Manolas and newly-crowned European champion Lorenzo Insigne 30. Is now the time?

Luciano Spalletti is at the wheel, with a wealth of talent in his roster but similarly to Leicester, Napoli will have to fight tooth and nail to reach the Champions League spots in the league ahead of the likes of Juventus, Inter, AC Milan, Roma and Atalanta. The Europa League might suit them a little more.

This is a wily squad with ferocious attackers and experience in abundance. The southern Italians will back themselves over most teams over two legs - and the return of fans to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona will give them a huge edge this season. 

3. West Ham United

Michail Antonio

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Imagine telling West Ham United fans that they'd be playing European football just a few months into David Moyes's second coming at the London Stadium. The Hammers just about avoided relegation and were one of the favourites for the drop the following season.

Now they're one of the favourites for the Europa League. How did this possibly happen? Well, the axis of Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek was certainly a good place to begin - and it's just about as good as many Champions League teams' midfields - while Michail Antonio's reinvention from right-back to latter-day Geoff Hurst is nothing short of extraordinary. Add Benrahma, Fornals, Coufal, Cresswell and two good goalkeepers into the mix and it's a fabulous turnaround. 

This is what West Ham upgraded the ground for and the fans will never forgive them if they don't give this European campaign a right good go. The Premier League has proved that this team can beat anyone on their day - and since the Irons already have heritage in Europe, they'll fancy a good run in this competition. 

4. Lazio

Maurizio Sarri

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Newly-installed coach Maurizio Sarri has Europa League pedigree and his Lazio team are one of the dark horses for Europa glory.

In Ciro Immobile, there's a proven hitman up top who only needs a single chance on goal, while Roma defectee and boo magnet Pedro has already won the tournament under Sarri's command once in his career. Lazio have neither the star names nor the raw quality to scare teams but a hostile home crowd and a mix of experience and grit make them an intriguing proposition.

Especially as they're managed by a chain-smoking idealist who won't change his morals for any man. It could be a recipe for an interesting campaign. 

5. Real Sociedad

David Silva

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Real Sociedad have some of the most enviable players in all of Europe. If it all clicks this season for them, they could be the latest Spanish side to conquer all in their wake.

Mikel Oyarzabal, Alexander Isak and Adnan Januzaj in attack offer balance, pace and precision, while David Silva is as ageless as ever. La Real met a sticky end last time as Manchester United rolled them over but with the side a year older and wiser - and the competition perhaps weaker as a whole - who's to say they can't give a better showing this time around?

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.