Europa League 2013

The 2013 Europa League evolved from the former UEFA Cup, one of Europe’s premier club football competitions. British clubs enjoyed considerable success in the early years of the competition, Tottenham winning the first tournament under the UEFA Cup title in 1971-72. Italian clubs began to dominate in the 1980’s following back-to-back success for Real Madrid in 1984-85 and 1985-86. British clubs had to wait seventeen years before Liverpool recorded their third success in 2000-01 and they remain the last British side to triumph

Only Juventus have matched Liverpool’s record of three tournament victories but the current force to be reckoned with comes from Spain in the form of Atletico Madrid, winners in 2009/10 and most recently in 2011/12. Under the present system, clubs eliminated from the third qualifying round of the Champions League and the eight third-placed finishers at the end of the group stage of the same competition enter the competition after the first group stage has been completed. This format has been criticised and is presently under review.

Atletico Madrid are not surprisingly rated tournament favourites but Chelsea’s surprise elimination from the Champions League at the group stage means that the European champions drop into the Europa League. The two sides met in the Super Cup in 2012, Atletico running out comfortable 4-1 winners. Although Chelsea’s main priority will be to guarantee their place in next season’s Champions League uewith a top four finish in the Premier League, they will certainly be keen to prove their European pedigree in this competition. Their recent £7.5 million signing Demba Ba will not be eligible to represent them in this tournament having already played for Newcastle.

Chelsea have been drawn against Sparta Prague in the last 32 as they attempt to join Juventus, Ajax and Bayern Munich as the only sides to win all of the major European trophies. The Premiership is also represented by Tottenham, twice winners of the UEFA Cup, Liverpool and Newcastle United. Spurs are now coached by former Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas and face Ligue 1 side Lyon in the last 32 whilst Liverpool face Zenit St Petersburg and Newcastle play Metalist Kharkiv. Liverpool will be able to play their new £12 million signing, Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea. Defending champions Atletico face Russian side Rubin Kazan and are priced at around 6-1 in the Europa League betting.

Chelsea are priced at 7-1 to gain compensation for their Champions League exit with Inter Milan (12-1), Napoli (16-1) and Lazio (20-1) expected to form a strong Italian challenge. Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala could be the tournament dark horses at 14-1 and they play Hannover in the last 32. Dutch champions Ajax should not be overlooked and are set to meet Steaua Bucharest whilst Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen play Portugal’s Benfica.

The first leg ties take place on Thursday 14th February with the return legs played on the 21st. The winners of those ties then meet in the last 16 on March 7th and 14th with the quarter-finals on the 4th and 11th April. The semi-finals are scheduled to take place on 25th April and 2nd May with the final itself on Wednesday 15th May at the Amsterdam Arena.

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