The Group Stage of the 2013-14 Europa League kicks off on Thursday with several major clubs participating. As part of our three part series leading up to the Europa League matches, here’s a preview of Groups A through D.
How would the likes of Valencia, Swansea and Wigan fare?
Group A is tight at the top – Valencia, Swansea and Kuban all have realistic chances of winning the group. Valencia’s good record in recent campaigns means they are almost certain to qualify for the knockout stages. Swansea manager Michael Laudrup has vowed to take the competition seriously, and with the stronger squad, they should be able to see off Kuban Krasnodar, who are also making their first foray into the Europa League. Swiss side St Gallen should offer little threat.
Prediction: Valencia (group winner), Swansea (runner up)
Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven should ease to qualification in this group. The key battle would be between Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb and Ukrainian side Chornomorets Odesa, with both sides looking evenly matched. Bulgarian side Ludogorets should be content with a third place finish.
Prediction: PSV (group winner), Dinamo Zagreb (runner up)
Despite a couple of underwhelming seasons in the Jupiler League and the sale of several key players, Standard Liege’s European experience should see them through in a relatively weak group. Qualification should also be straightforward for Austrian runners-up Red Bull Salzburg. Scandinavian sides Esbjerg and Elfsborg have little separating them, both in club name and squad quality.
Prediction: Standard Liege (group winner), FC Salzburg (runner up)
Rubin Kazan should have no problem dominating Group D. Second-place is up for grabs, with Belgium’s Zulte-Waregem most likely to go through. Slovenian champions NK Maribor lack the quality to mount a serious challenge. The same could be said of Wigan Athletic, and it’s a shame that the FA Cup champions would probably choose to concentrate on life in the Championship. European football is not easy to come by, more so when you’re Wigan.
Prediction: Rubin Kazan (group winners), Zulte-Waregem (runner up).
Editor’s note: For viewers in the United States, many of the Europa League matches will be shown live on US television and Internet. Check our TV schedule page. Plus, stay tuned to World Soccer Talk for more details on the other games.