The Champions League may be the most popular football competition in Europe, but the Europa League, with 12 groups of 4 teams each is arguably the toughest football league in the world.
Asides having to play so many games in the most-gruelling weather situations, teams that progress past the group stage will also have to compete with other teams that finish third in the UCL group after the group stages.
The journey to the final begins this week as the new season kicks off. Despite being the Europa League, there are quite a number of A-list teams that will be vying for the trophy.
Bayer Leverkusen is the big gun in Group A, a group with clubsides from Greece, Bulgaria and Switzerland. On paper, it may look like an easy run-in for them, but they will have their work cut out for them, especially in away games, like their first game which will be away to Ludogorets.
The Scottish champions, Celtic, will play their first game against Rosenborg. Celtic Park has been a fotress for Celtic in Europe and Rosenborg will be in for a fiesty ride come Thursday.
In Group B’s other game, RB Leipzig will take on Red Bull Salzburg, one of the highest goal scoring sides in Austria. Leipzig have retained most of the team that went all the way to the semi-final last season and will be favorites to win this game.
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Chelsea is one of the few clubs yet to drop a point this season in their domestic league. They start another campaign for a trophy in the Europa League with an away game against PAOK. May not be a major opposition but playing away from home can be a banana peel.
It’s the first in a long time the Gunners will be playing European football without Arsene Wenger. After losing the first two games in the league, they’ve bounced back with a winning run.
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Perennial winners of this competition, Sevilla, will start their campaign with the game against Standard Liege. While theirs will be a home game, Rangers travel to Spain to take on the Yello Submarines, aka Villarreal.
SS Lazio and AC Milan are the two clubs representing Italy in this competition. With Inter Milan set to host Tottenham in the Champions League this week, AC Milan start their campaign away from home.
SS Lazio may have been grouped alongside Marseille and Eintracht Frankfurt, their first game will be against Apollon Limassol, in front of their home fans.
In Group D, Fernabache will travel to Croatia to face Dinamo Zagreb with both teams having had their fair share of playing in both the Champions League and the Europa League.
These first games could determine the face of any of these 48 teams. Starting with a win is great. Suffering a loss in the first game may cause a team to struggle throughout the campaign.
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