Welcome to the 2016-2017 edition of the UEFA Sevilla
Europa League, the unwanted step-brother of the UEFA Champions League. We will take a look back on last season's results first.
Winner: FC Sevilla
(I was tempted to use last year's photo here)
After winning the Europa League in 2013-14 and 2014-15, most fans were hopeful that Sevilla couldn't do a three-peat, mainly because by winning the competition in 2014-15 they qualified for the Champions League Group stage. Unfortunately, they finished third in the Group of Death with Juve, City and Gladbach and went into the Round of 32 draw as an unseeded team, luckboxing Molde. In the Round of 16, they met Basel - who were hoping to reach the final in their home stadium St. Jakob-Park - and crushed those hopes.
At this point, the bookie favourite was still Dortmund, but they threw away a 3-1 away lead at Anfield to crash out against Liverpool, while Sevilla beat Bilbao on penalties. The two teams met in the final after beating Donetsk and Villarreal, and - of course - Sevilla won and celebrated their third title in a row. Let's just hope they don't finish third in their CL group this time around.
Now, let's look at some numbers and teams for this year: a total of 188 teams will be involved in the tournament. Most of them will have a long way to the group stage:
1st qualifying round
(96 teams), already over. "Notable" knock-outs: Linfield, Shamrock Rovers, Pyunik (lost to FC Europa from Gibraltar).
2nd qualifying round
(48 winners + 18 teams) - 14th/21st of July, notable matches include: Dinamo Minsk - St. Patrick's Athletic, Birkirkara - Hearts, Maribor - Levski Sofia, Aberdeen - Ventspils and Midtjylland-Vaduz.
3rd qualifying round
(33 winners + 25 teams) - draw 15th of July, matches on the 28th of July + 4th of August: Entering this round are teams like West Ham, Hertha BSC, Lille, Sassuolo, Krasnodar, Gent, Panathinaikos, Rapid Vienna and others.
(29 winners + 15 CL Q3 drop-outs) - draw 5th, matches 18th/25th of August. The 22 winners enter the group stage, together with 10 CL play-off losers and 16 already qualified teams.
Group stage draw:
26th of August.
Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo, Manchester United, Southampton, Schalke 04, Mainz 05, Inter, Fiorentina, Braga, Nice, Zenit, Zorya Luhansk (UKR), Feyenoord, Standard Liege, FC ZŘrich, Konyaspor (TUR).
Taking a look at the already qualified teams, obviously Man United stands out. Zlatan has never won the Champions League, but hasn't won the Europa League either. With Mourinho now in charge at Old Trafford, is there potential for a international title this season? The competition is strong as well, and you're never safe as long as Sevilla is technically in the tournament.
What does DER MARKT have to say about the competition?
Oddly enough, there are no odds on Sevilla yet. Wonder what bookies would give on that right now, 50/1? Seems like free money. Anyway, go go go!