Europa League Group Stage – Which of These Groups Could Pass for Champions League?By: Daryl | August 27th, 2010
The draw for the Europa League group stage seems like a top secret hush-hush operation when compared Champions League group stage draw. Part of the problem is the sheer number of teams in said group stage. Forty-eight teams means 12 groups of four, which means we go all the way from Group A to Group L. Almost (but not quite) halfway through the alphabet.
Though some groups are a little underwhelming (naming no names, Group E) others offer match-ups that could genuinely be described as mouthwatering. Assuming your reaction to a potentially good football match is to salivate heavily, which I’m not sure is 100% healthy. I’d even argue that one or two of these Europa League groups could even be mistaken for Champions League groups, if you saw them on a misty night and were willing to squint a bit. Here are your 2011/12 Europa League groups:
Group A: Lech Poznan (Poland), Salzburg (Austria), Manchester City (England), Juventus (Italy)
Group B: Rosenborg (Norway), Aris (Greece), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Group C: Ghent (Belgium), Lille (France), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Levksi Sofia (Bulgaria)
Group D: PAOK Thessaloniki (Greece), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Villarreal (Spain), FC Brugge (Belgium)
Group E: BATE Borisov (Belarus), AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands), Sheriff (Moldova), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine)
Group F: CSKA Moscow (Russia), Sparta Prague (Czech Republic), Palermo (Italy), Lausanne (Switzerland)
Group G: Hajduk Split (Croatia), Anderlecht (Belgium), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), AEK Athens (Greece)
Group H: OB Odense (Denmark), Stuttgart (Germany), Young Boys (Switzerland), Getafe (Spain)
Group I: Sampdoria (Italy), Debrecen (Hungary), Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
Group J: Paris Saint-Germain (France), Karpaty Lviv (Ukraine), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Sevilla (Spain)
Group K: Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Napoli (Italy), FC Utrecht (Netherlands), Liverpool (England)
Group L: Rapid Vienna (Austria), Besiktas (Turkey), CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria), FC Porto (Portugal)
The most enticing match up appears to be Manchester City and Juventus sharing Group A, though Lech Poznan and Salzburg are letting the side down a little in terms of Champions League passability. And yeah, I know, that’s an extremely arrogant and narrow-minded way to be judging these Champions League groups. But somewhere between very few to none of the above teams can honestly claim they’d rather be in the 2010/11 Europa League than the 2010/11 Champions League.
Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen will square off in Group B, which means the likes of Sergio Aguero and Michael Ballack, but as with Group A there’s potential for the two bigger teams to just waltz through in first and second place uncontested. Maybe we should be praying for upsets in both groups, to make the battle of the big boys more vital?
Easily my favourite group in terms of strength in depth is Group J. None of PSG, Sevilla or Borussia Dortmund would look out of place in a Champions League group, and all three will have to visit Karpaty Lviv in Ukraine, a game I’m legally required to refer to as “tricky”.
Teams will play home and away, and the top two from each group will be joined by the eight third place Champions League group stage teams to give us a 32 team knockout stage in February 2011. With all due respect to this 48 team group stage, the competition doesn’t really get good until we’re down to 32 teams and we know exactly which 32 teams they are.