The start of Europe’s second most prestigious club competition is at hand. The Europa League pits the rest of the continent’s clubs against each other for the chance to win this trophy. Although seen as a minor tournament when compared to the Champions League, it still gives top clubs in Europe a chance to show the world that they too can play football as well as the big boys. Here’s a brief look at the upcoming games for Match Day One:
Young Boys vs. Liverpool
Udinese vs. Anzhi
Former Champions League and UEFA cup winners Liverpool will be looking to extend their five-match unbeaten run in Europe against Young Boys. With the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez leading their attack, they are heavily favored to win this match. Young Boys will be the latest side from Switzerland to try and overcome the Reds who have a forty-year unbeaten run against Swiss teams. Even with the erratic start to their campaign in the Premiership, Liverpool will come out on top.
Udinese will have its hands full against Anzhi because of their star player. Samuel Eto’o led Internazionale when they won the treble of the Italian League, Italian Cup and Champions League in 2010. The Italians have fared well in this competition the past few seasons; this will aid them in playing the first-timers along with the knowledge of playing against Eto’o. This will be a competitive game but I predict Udinese to win.
Hapoel Tel Aviv vs. Atletico Madrid
Viktoria Plzen vs A Academica de Coimbra
Defending champions Atletico will begin their title defense against Hapoel. Coming off a superb performance against Chelsea in the UEFA Super cup, Falcao will be the man to watch. He has been on a tear lately and is scoring multiple goals per game. They are favorites to win this match, as well as the group.
Plizen impressed in last year’s Champions League group stages and will be using that experience against another team on their maiden campaign in Academica. A four decade absence from European competition may hinder Academica from advancing but this will not stop them from trying to provide the upset. Playing against the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona last season gives the advantage, and I believe the win, to Plizen.
AEL Limassol FC vs. Vfl Borussia Monchengladbach
Fenerbahce SK vs. Olympique Marseille
AEL and Monchengladbach are both in this competition for the first time. Monchengladbach will have the advantage as they are playing in the German Bundesliga which is considered as the third best league in Europe. With Fenerbahce and Marseille favored to qualify from this group, the winner of this match will have a chance to continue to the next phase. Monchengladbach will prevail.
Having played in the Champions League the last seven seasons, Marseille has the pedigree to go all the ways to the finals. Fenerbahce have not played well at home in European games recently and will find it difficult to overcome the former French league Champions. Marseille will win this match.
CS Maritimo vs. Newcastle United
FC Girondins de Bordeaux vs. Club Brugge KV
Maritimo have momentum on their side as they have won twice and drew twice in their last four games. This run of form may prove to be the difference against a Newcastle side that is back in European competition after a six year absence. Newcastle has been on a rise the past few years in the English Premiership and a spot in this competition was well deserved. With the highly competitive nature of their league and top-class striker Demba Ba leading them, Newcastle will have the edge over Maritimo in this match.
Bordeaux has an impressive home record in European competition with a nine-game unbeaten streak while Brugge boasts a seven-game away winning streak as well. One of these streaks will have to be broken and Bordeaux will come out winning this match. Their experience at home in both Champions League and Europa League matches is the significant difference from both sides.
Vfb Stuttgart vs. FC Steaua Bucuresti
FC Kobenhavn vs. Molde FK
Stuttgart has an impressive record against Romanian opponents and has not failed to qualify to the next round of this competition before. Although Steaua have not been beaten in their last seven games in Europe, they have only qualified to the next round three out of five times. With prolific Brazilian scorer Cacau in their ranks, Stuttgart has the quality to overcome Steaua.
Kobenhavn will try to continue the dominance of their country’s clubs against Molde from Norway. The Danish have a vastly superior record against clubs from Norway and with Igor Vetokele and Cesar Santin leading their attacks, this impressive run will continue on.
FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk vs. PSV Eindhoven
SSC Napoli vs. AIK Solna
PSV has been one of the top teams in Dutch football and will want to erase their last defeat to Dnipro twenty seven years ago. Former UEFA Cup and European Cup winners, they will be favorites to advance to the next round along with Napoli. PSV will defeat Dnipro.
World class scorer Edinson Cavani and playmaker Marek Hamsik will be too much too handle for Solna. Cavani has been among the top-scorers in Europe the past few years and has helped Napoli advance to the next round the last three years. Napoli has the tools to overwhelm Solna comprehensively.
KRC Genk vs. Videoton FC
Sporting Clube de Portugal vs. FC Basel 1893
Genk will be welcoming Videoton into the Europa League Group Stage with a win. Genk played in the Champions League Group Stage last year and did not lose at home. Even if Videoton has an impressive record against Belgian teams, Genk will have enough experience and their home fans to win this game.
Sporting has beaten Basel in all four of their previous meetings and has qualified to the next round four years in a row. Even with that record against Basel, Sporting does not have Basel’s Champions League experience from the last four years. That experience will help Basel finally beat Sporting for the first time in their history.
Internazionale vs. Rubin Kazan
FK Partizan Belgrade vs. Neftci PFK
Internazionale will meet Rubin Kazan again since their title-winning run in 2010. Although the side that won the title in that year is not the same, Inter has started well in Serie A this year and even if they are still in a rebuilding process, Inter still has the quality to beat Rubin Kazan.
Partizan has reached the group stage of this competition the past 5 years but has never made it through the next round. With Neftci playing in this Group Phase for the first time, their inexperience might cost them qualification. Partizan will win this match
Olympique Lyonnais vs. AC Sparta Praha
Athletic Bilbao vs. H. Kiryat Shmona
Lyon will not have an easy time playing against Sparta. Even with their vast Champions League experience, Sparta is unbeaten in five European games. Lyon will need the services of Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro Lopez to lift the seven-time French champions to victory. This will be a close match but I believe Lyon will win it.
Last year’s runners-up Athletic will not have any problems with Europa League debutants Kiryat. The Spanish side has too much quality in their ranks with Spain International Striker Fernando LLorente leading their attack. Athletic are also favorites to top this group.
NK Maribor vs. Panathinaikos FC
Tottenham Hotspur FC vs. SS Lazio
Panathinaikos will extend Maribor’s six game losing streak in this competition’s Group Stage last year. The Greeks have not failed to qualify to the next round in any of their previous competitions. If Tottenham or Lazio do not perform as expected, Panathinaikos can advance to the next round.
Lazio has a dismal record against English opponents, and that record will not be improved upon on this match. With both these teams favored to advance from this group, Tottenham will want to avoid a stronger team in the next round. Newly appointed Coach Andres Vilas Boas has bought quality players and will have enough to secure the victory of Lazio.
Rapid Wien vs. Rosenborg
Bayern Leverkusen vs. Metalist
With Rosenborg taking the longer route getting to this Group Stage, they will not want all that effort go to waste against a Rapid Wien side that has not reached the knockout stages. Rosenborg themselves has not tasted qualification to the knockout rounds and will provide a stern test to the Austrians. With Bayern Leverkusen as favorites to advance to the next round, this match may determine who goes along with the Germans. I believe Rosenborg will be able to beat Rapid Wien
Levante UD vs. Helsingborg IF
FC Twente vs. Hannover 96
Levante will be playing in this competition for the first time and have not lost in qualifying for this Group Stage. They will look to continue Spanish clubs dominance over Swedish opponents. With Helsingborg having a bad record away from home, Levante will have the upper hand in this match. Levante will beat Helsingborg.
Former Dutch Champions Twente is the favorites to top this group and will have a tough matchup with Hannover. Unbeaten in their last 4 home games against German sides, Twente are also on an eleven-match winning streak at home in European matches. Unbeaten in this year’s qualifying campaign, Hannover does have the momentum with them, but with the impressive form of Twente at home, the Dutch will hammer out the victory.
The competition for the trophy will be fierce with a handful of teams capable of lifting the trophy, leading the pack is the defending Champion Atletico Madrid. Will Falcao be able to do a three-peat? He won win FC Porto two years ago and with Atletico last year, both times landing the top-scorer award. He will be rewriting history if he accomplishes that milestone.
Catch the games live on Balls Skycable Channel 34. The featured match for the first night is Young Boys vs. Liverpool on September 21, 2012 LIVE at 1:00 a.m. Also catch the Tottenham vs. Lazio at 3:00 a.m.
“The smell of freshly-cut grass and the whiff of the chalk before a big game…and then it starts to rain. You. Are. Home.”