Predicting how the Europa League groups will finish
The Europa League draw has been completed, with four Portuguese clubs going into the hat. Here, we take a look at how each of their groups are likely to finish.
Portugal are the only country to have as many as four teams in the Europa League group stage - the next most well represented countries are the likes of Spain, England, Germany and Turkey, who only have 3 sides each.
It’s an impressive achievement for the nation - but for how long can they keep it going? Could we see all four make it to the knockout stages? We take a closer look at how the Portuguese sides are likely to perform in their respective groups.
Group D: Sporting CP, PSV, Rosenborg, LASK.
When Sporting were drawn alongside PSV, there was concern that this was opening up to be something of a ‘group of death’ for the Lisbon club, with PSV arguably the hardest possible team to draw from pot 2.
That’s shown further by PSV’s record in European competition. While they have known history as a European heavyweight, their recent record is also more than respectable and shows that they are a team to be at least a little concerned about.
They qualified for the Champions League last season, of course, taking points off both eventual runners-up Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan too, while they also reached the Champions League round of 16 in 2016, beating CSKA Moscow, Manchester United and Wolfsburg in the process.
They are therefore a team to be respected. At the same time though, PSV are still a team that Sporting can come out on top against'; after all, they fell to defeat against Basel who aren’t the team they once were, in the Champions League second qualifying round a couple of months ago, while they then only scraped to victory in the Europa League third qualifying round, winning 1-0 against Norwegian outfit Haugesund.
And don’t forget that they didn’t even make the Europa League group stage two seasons ago, falling to a shock defeat to Osijek.
And Sporting will be grateful that they drew Rosenborg and LASK from pots 3 and 4 respectively. They are two sides that again command respect, though when they could have ended up with Wolves and Trabzonspor, Rosenborg and LASK seems like a very favourable outcome.
Rosenborg are a side that have Europe League pedigree, though, having qualified for the group stage of Europe’s secondary competition on 3 of the last 4 occasions, though they have never before made it past the group stage of the competition. That will give Sporting comfort, knowing that their Norwegian opponents would need to make history if they are to cause a significant upset.
LASK, meanwhile, have minimal European pedigree, this the first time they have ever made the Europa League group stage.
They are a bit of a wild card, though. Austrian football is on the up, and LASK showed against Basel in the Champions League third qualifying round that they can challenge some good European sides. Indeed, while PSV lost to Basel, LASK won 5-2 over 2 legs, which gives Sporting something to think about going into the match.
How could the group turn out?
Here is a prediction of how Group D could finish, with Sporting predicted to come out on top in what is likely to be a two-horse race.
The fixture list has been kind to Sporting, with their first match of the campaign being against PSV - away. Good to get the toughest match of the group stage out of the way immediately, with little pressure on that game. A loss would be far from disastrous with the return fixture still to be played where everything can be resolved, while any point would be a good one on the opening day.
And we can’t see Sporting losing a single one of their group games either, instead predicting that they will likely draw in Holland on the opening day, before going on a four-match winning run, beating LASK at home, Rosenborg home and away, and then PSV back in the home meeting.
With first place in the group almost secured going into the final match against LASK in Austria, it’s then feasible to think that Sporting will play out a bit of a bore draw, seeing them top the group with relative ease.
Group G: Porto, Young Boys, Feyenoord, Rangers
It seems fair to say that this group is a little more difficult than that of Sporting, with all three other sides in with a realistic chance of qualifying as the 2nd best team in the group.
In all honesty though, FC Porto should really be advancing from this group with relative ease. For the Europa League, it’s a tricky group - but Porto are a Champions League calibre teams, and if this were a Champions League group, Porto fans would be dancing. They came out of a Champions League group last year containing Schalke, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow in first place with ease, and their Europa League group this time around is, understandably, even weaker than that one.
As such, Porto should be expecting nothing less than fiirst place in the group, and should be looking to secure close to maximum points.
Young Boys are a team to be respected, though, that is for sure. They are something of Europa League regulars, and even made the group stage of the Champions League last year, beating Juventus in something of a dead-rubber clash on the final game week.
Typically though, while they often make the Europa League group stage, they rarely get any further, failing to get out of a group containing Partizan, Dynamo Kiev and Skenderbeu in 2017, and again falling at the group stage in 2016 in a group involving Olympiakos, Astana and APOEL. Porto, therefore, should have few problems.
Meanwhile Feyenoord have only made it past the group stage of European competition once in their last 7 attempts, while Rangers are something more of an unknown quantity, with little recent European history to go off.
They have performed admirably in the last two Europa League campaigns, managing to go through 4 qualifying rounds on each occasion to reach the group stage, and last year took points of Spartak Moscow, Villarreal and Rapid Vienna. At home, they will be a formidable opposition.
How could the group turn out?
Here’s a prediction of how Porto’s group will turn out - and it’s expected to be relatively close for 2nd:
I have a sneaky feeling that draws may become something of a theme for this group, as Rangers illustrated in their Europa League campaign last year. They actually drew three of their 6 group matches last campaign, and I can see something similar happening throughout this group.
Porto could also fall into that trap, getting the business done early before taking their foot off the gas.
Unlike in Sporting’s group, I actually think that the first match for Porto could actually prove quite important, playing hosts to who are, on paper, the second best team in the group in Young Boys. If they win that, it puts them in a very good position to qualify. A loss, however, would be disastrous.
The next two games after that are likely important too, with Feyenoord away a match that Porto have to avoid defeat in, while playing at home to Rangers in the third match is something of a must-win. Playing two of their three home games in their opening three games puts a lot of pressure on Porto to make a strong start.
Group K: Besiktas, Braga, Wolves, Slovan Bratislava
A really intriguing group this one, with three high quality sides who will all have gone into the draw expecting to make it out of the group. Now, however, one of them has to go out - and most of the footballing world will likely expect the team to drop out to be Braga.
Turkish fans are always very confident - and loud. Galatsaray supporters, for example, were vocal on social media about their expectations against Porto in the Champions League last season - but Porto ended up beating them both home and away. The same set of fans were then very confident against Benfica in the Europa League - and Benfica ended up winning 3-1 on aggregate.
This time, Besiktas fans are more well-placed to be confident about coming out on top against their Portuguese opposition, Braga not quite as strong as either of Benfica or Porto - but they shouldn’t be underestimated, boasting one of the most talented squads they’ve ever had in their history, and having already shown their European pedigree by knocking out Russian outfit Spartak Moscow in the play-off, beating them both home and away.
Wolves, meanwhile, are a side with no recent record in European competition - but they are the team that are most likely to top this group. Coming from pot 3, they were the team to avoid, and Braga will be very disappointed to have been handed a group with them.
Their back-to-back victories over Torino showed they are a team to fear, and this could come down to a head-to-head clash with Besiktas for 2nd place.
How the group could turn out:
Here is our honest prediction of how the group will turn out. It is going to be tight:
In fact, tight is an understatement. It really is going to go to the wire, that battle for 2nd place going to go to the final day, and our prediction is that it is only then that Braga will leapfrog Besiktas, with Braga facing Bratislava on the last day, while Besiktas have to go to England to face Wolves.
For Braga, all of them, except for the ones against Wolves. We’ve actually predicted that Braga will lose both home and away to Wolves, so they really could be throw-away matches, so long as they make no mistakes in the other four fixtures.
It is absolutely crucial, for example, that they secure victory over Bratislava, both home and away. They are the weak side in the group, and to have any realistic chance of progression, six points against them is surely required.
Then against Besiktas, they will likely need to get 4 points in total. They play Besiktas in the third and fourth gameweeks, first away, then home. If they can get a point in that first clash, it can be considered an excellent result. If they can then follow that up with a win in Portugal, they are in pole position - and we think that’s exactly what they will do.
Portuguese sides have a decent record against Turkish outfits - hopefully Braga keep it going.
Group F: Arsenal, Eintracht Frankfurt, Standard Liege, Guimaraes
Well, you have to feel for Guimaraes. They worked so hard to get to this point, only to be handed what was pretty much the hardest draw they could have asked for. The names of the sides in their group speak for themselves, but to hammer home how good these sides are, Arsenal have made it to at least the semi-final on each of their three showings in this competition, while Frankfurt matched that last season.
Yes, the German side have lost Jovic up front, but they are still an excellent outfit, and if Guimaraes take even a point against them, it’s a triumph. The same obviously goes for Arsenal.
And while Standard Liege are a level below those two sides, they too are a team to show great respect, what with the Belgian side being something of regulars in this competition.
Ultimately, therefore, in terms of Guimaraes’ chances of progression, this group is pretty disastrous - though it was always likely to be, what with Guimaraes being in pot 4. At the same time though, this is why they are here, so they can test themselves against the very best of clubs in Europe. And that’s what they’re getting in this group, which does have something of a watered-down Champions League feel to it.
How could the group turn out?
Here’s our prediction of how the group may look. It doesn't make the best reading for Guimaraes, but they can be very proud of their Europa League campaign regardless:
Guimarães will likely set the target of four points, which is reasonable - victory over Standard Liege in Portugal and a draw either in Belgium or against Frankfurt in Guimarães is certainly not out of the question, though the prediction is that they will fall slightly short of that.
The first two games will be absolutely crucial if Guimarães want any chance at all at progression. Away to Standard to begin - that's a must win if they want to challenge for 2nd place. Their next game would then be Frankfurt at home - a point at least in that one would give them a realistic chance.