The Europa League may be Europe’s secondary competition but this season, there are some real heavyweights taking part after disappointing league campaigns last year.
Tottenham and Liverpool will both be harbouring hopes of winning the trophy but they face some serious competition from all over the continent if they are to get the Champions League place on offer to the winners.
The shock participants in the tournament, the Bundesliga juggernauts endured a torrid season in 2014/15, finishing in seventh place, but they have got off to a flyer this year, with a 100% record and a top class squad demonstrating its quality.
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It is difficult to argue that on paper Dortmund have the strongest squad in the Europa League, Mats Hummels is arguably the best centre back in the world while Marco Reus is (if he can get away from his injury problems) one of the best players in his position in world football, let alone the Europa League.
With their brand of lightning fast counter-attacking football they are set up to destroy teams with pace and power rather than pass them to death. If they can translate this to the Europa league expect them to go far.
For a club as well funded as Napoli have been over the past few years they have not delivered anywhere near enough in either Serie A or in Europe.
Under Rafa Benitez they never progressed enough in Europe and never came close to breaking the monopoly that Juventus have over Serie A. They do however still boast enough talent in the squad to go far in the Europa League, with the likes of Marek Hamsik, Gonzalo Higuain and Lorenzo Insigne in their ranks they have an attack that should be able to cause problems for any defence in this competition.
They will be hoping to at least match last year’s progression to the semi–finals of the tournament.
Athletic Club Bilbao:
A slightly less fashionable club after the European heavyweights listed before in this article, the Basque club have been quietly impressive in the last few years and now after an extraordinary performance in the Spanish Super Sup against Spanish and European champions Barcelona look like a force to be reckoned with.
The club’s policy of recruiting only players of Basque origin has been questioned but there is more than enough quality in this side to suggest that they can go far. Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte are two of the most talented youngsters in Europe and Aritz Aduriz scored 26 goals in all competitions last year. They may not be the most fancied team in the tournament but expect the Spanish dark horses to knock out a few big names.
The Principality club have moved away from their policy of spending ludicrous amounts on players in recent times and have instead looked to cheaper alternatives.
However there is still some star power in this side and with a truly incredible defensive record in the Champions League last year they are a force to be reckoned with for any side. Adding Portuguese left back Fabio Coentrao to the side on loan from Real Madrid has only strengthened a very strong looking rear guard.
Also whilst the loss of star men Anthony Martial and Geoffery Kondogbia, the acquisition of Stephen El Shaarawy from Milan along with stalwarts Joao Moutinho and Jeremy Toulalan provide them with quality further up the field as well.
They join Tottenham Hotspur in the same group so the excitement will start early for them, but they should go far.
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