Despite its negative press, the Europa League presents an excellent opportunity for clubs to make their on the European game. At the last 16 stage many big names such as Benfica, Valencia and Juventus are still in the tournament. The question is- Who will win the tournament?
Juventus have to be seen a major favourites given their Serie A title is almost wrapped up and the extra incentive that the final will be played at Juventus Stadium. In addition to that, their squad is arguably the best in the 16 left in the tournament. Their midfield is perhaps one of the best in Europe with the elegant nature of Andrea Pirlo and the industriousness of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal.
The tournament presents an excellent for Juventus to restore themselves a major force in European football and it is a great chance for Antonio Conte to win a tournament that his legacy can be remembered by.
Napoli have to be seen among the favourites purely because of their manager. Under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez they are a dangerous side in the competition given his pedigree in the competition. The Spaniard has won the tournament twice with Valencia in 2004 when it was called the UEFA Cup and with Chelsea last year.
However, Benitez is not the only factor in their chances. Their squad is full of quality, particularly in the attacking third of the pitch with Gonzalo Higuain leading the line just in front of some the most potent wingers in Europe including Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik.
Under their new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi, Valencia seem a serious shout for the Europa League title. The former Spanish international has turned around their fortunes in La Liga and they have looked a more solid unit since Christmas. With the European places escaping them after poor start to the season, the Europa League appears to be their best bet to get back in to the tournament for next season.
They have an interesting young squad that will be looking to make their mark on tournament, players such as Paco Alcacer, Fede and Juan Bernat have all added their own exciting quality to the squad and a Europa League title would be fine piece of silverware for their blank CV.
For interim manager Luis Castro, the Europa League is the only real chance for him to prove he’s up for the job on a permanent basis. The same applies for the rest of the Porto squad, the Europa League is a chance to prove their worth.
Many are on the fringes of their national team such as Eliaquim Mangala, who is looking to break into the France squad for the World Cup and Jackson Martinez, who is looking to deputise for the injured Radamel Falcao for Colombia.
With the Primeira League title gone for this season, Porto can focus solely on the Europa League. Given their history in the competition over the last few season, they have to be seen as major contenders.
After they lost the Europa League final to Chelsea last year, Bela Guttman’s warning that they would never win a European trophy after he left rang even more true. This season presents Benfica with another chance to lay their demons to rest.
In the last 16 they face testing tie against Tottenham Hotspur. The London club have swayed in and out of form in recent weeks and their recent 4-0 defeat at Chelsea was their worst since Tim Sherwood took charge.
Benfica have to be favoured in the tie considering the second leg is at the Estadio da Luz. If they can get a draw at White Hart Lane on Thursday, there’s a good chance they will beat Tottenham in Lisbon.
With Sherwood resigned that fourth place in the league is probably out of reach, he has real opportunity to make a name for himself in the managerial world in the Europa League.
Tottenham have been great under his guidance in flashes, which could prove to be enough in the Europa League. If they can put together the occasional top class performance, they could be in the running to win the tournament.
Sherwood does have decent squad to utilise, given the need to merge all the new players into the squad. The Europa League could be his chance to make a success out of what seemed a poor transfer window.
Red Bull Salzburg
Red Bull Salzburg have surprised this season, winning all of their Europa League games so far. With a potent strike force of Brazilian striker, Alan and former Barcelona striker, Jonathan Soriano- Red Bull Salzburg are a side that should be considered as dark horses.