The draw has thrown up some fascinating contests in the first phase of the competition.
The Europa League is set to be back for the 2021/22 season, starting September 15. The rapid development of sides has made the competition better than ever. With higher stakes, this edition has already drawn attention with its set of interesting group stage fixtures.
Considering the aforementioned factors, here’s a list of 10 fixtures to watch out for from the Europa League 2021-22 group stages.
10. Real Betis Vs Celtic
Under Manuel Pellegrini, Real Betis have had a mini resurgence, building a reputation after the side peaked under Quique Setien. Finishing sixth in La Liga, the side are now in Group G of the Europa League. Los Verdibalcnos will be a part of a couple of exciting fixtures. One of those clashes will be against Celtic.
Under Ange Postecoglou, the Scottish side have not begun their campaign well this time around. The hangover of handing the Premiership title to arch-rivals Rangers still seems to be lingering around. However, that is what could drive them in this fixture too. All in all, this battle to start the Europa League campaign on a high will be crucially dealt with by both sides, adding value to the match.
9. SC Braga Vs Midtjylland
After leading Rio Ave to a Europa League qualifying spot in the 2019/20 season, Carlos Carvalhal’s arrival at Braga has seen them deliver stellar performances. The team have been one of the most prominent to come from Portugal. The talent pool has looked more vibrant than ever.
In the new chapter of their reign under Carvalhal, the side’s clash against Midtjylland is a particularly interesting one. The Danish outfit have built a unique reputation for themselves, pioneering in data-based analytics and recruitment in the recent past. They’ve started well under new boss Bo Henriksen, who will go all-out to push for the next round of the European competition.
8. Eintracht Frankfurt Vs Fenerbahce
Two draws and a loss from the first three matches – Eintracht Frankfurt’s start to the Bundesliga campaign has not been that good. However, that does not make them a side of inferior quality. The presence of match winners like Daichi Kamada and Filip Kostic makes them worthy opponents on any given night.
The clash against Fenerbahce, which will mark Mesut Ozil’s return to European nights again, will mean a lot to the German side. Vítor Pereira’s Fenerbahce, on the other, will look to seal both the home and away fixtures in Group D, which is expected to be open for each side.
7. PSV Eindhoven Vs Sturm Graz
PSV Eindhoven are off to a flying start in the Eredivisie and sit on top of the table. On the other, their Europa League opponents – technically the weakest team on paper in Group B – Sturm Graz have also made a good start in the Austrian Bundesliga.
This clash between two in-form sides will be a mouthwatering one, considering how unpredictable Group B might turn out to be.
6. Lyon Vs Rangers
Despite losing their talismanic forward Memphis Depay for free to Barcelona, Lyon do not lack quality. From Houssem Aouar to Lucas Paqueta and Xherdan Shaqiri, the French side have enough armour to hurt their opponents. Rangers, after ending a dominant Celtic run with an unbeaten league campaign, will be particularly wary of this.
Steven Gerrard’s men are a side that can be beaten and their European qualifying playoffs have shown this. With both sides having a lot to prove at this stage, this Group A fixture could be an end-to-end encounter.
5. Real Sociedad Vs Monaco
Real Sociedad have a promising set of youngsters in Alexander Isak, Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Zubimendi. They blend well with experienced campaigners like David Silva, Adnan Januzaj and Nacho Monreal. While La Real have their share of strengths and struggles, their Group B rivals Monaco sit in the same space but with more shortcomings.
With just one win in their opening five matches, Monaco look toothless and are taking time to find their feet. Niko Kovac’s side have names, who can come together to form a solid unit and in that case, will be a threat against their rivals from Spain. With quality campaigners on either side, the clash is one of the most awaited in this Europa League group stage.
4. Real Betis Vs Bayer Leverkusen
Another studded match that Real Betis are involved in is against German side Bayer Leverkusen. With a talent like Florian Wirtz at their disposal, accompanied by a lethal center forward in Patrick Schick, this Bundesliga side will be a tricky one for the Balompie to deal with.
Currently 15th in the Spanish top flight, the not-so-impressive start will eventually turn up into a disappointing campaign if Betis end up going down against Leverkusen. Thus, the match, like the Celtic one, will be one encounter that will make Group G worth looking at.
3. West Ham Vs Dinamo Zagreb
Under David Moyes, West Ham United have evolved into one of the most consistent sides in the Premier League. Making their way to Europe was convincing, especially in the second half of the season.
In their Europa League group stage campaign, the Hammers will have to go up against Dinamo Zagreb, who have been solid with their start in Croatia so far. The clash between the favourites to lead Group H will be one to watch.
2. Leicester City Vs Napoli
Leicester City’s tendency to slip out of the top four towards the end of the season has haunted them yet again. The Foxes are now in Group C and will battle out with Napoli to proceed to the knockout rounds.
Off to a flying start, including a win against Juventus, Napoli under Luciano Spalletti are currently topping the Serie A table. Moving on from the Gennaro Gattuso era has been bumpy. But the new ride under the former Inter boss will see them face more obstacles and the Foxes will be notable ones.
1. Marseille Vs Lazio
The most awaited match of this season’s Europa League group stage have to be the clash between Marseille and Lazio. Broadly speaking, this has been termed as the clash between two of the most talked-about coaches in world football. Jorge Sampaoli’s Marseille, looking to resurrect themselves, will face Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio in Group E.
Since both sides have their own set of stars and some newcomers with promise, the clash is set to provide some genuine entertainment. The battle of heads will largely depend on who will push the other out of their comfort zone and achieving that should guarantee the top spot.