How would Tottenham, Lazio and Olympique Lyonnais fare?
Lyon and Real Betis are heavy favourites to qualify from Group I. Top spot in the group can really go either way – Lyon’s depth and experience in Europe gives them a slight edge, but Real Betis will want to do well in their first foray into Europe since the 2005/06 Champions League. Real Betis’ enthusiasm could see them winning the group, but Lyon would be expected to go further in the tournament should they both qualify. Portuguese Cup holders Vitória S.C. should finish comfortably ahead of Croatia’s Rijeka in third.
Prediction: Real Betis (winners), Lyon (runner up)
Lazio did well last season in the Europa League, winning their group and making it to the quarter finals. Expect no different this season from the reigning Coppa Italia champions, who should be favourites to win not only Group J but also the coveted trophy. The race for second is wide open – both Legia Warsaw and Trabzonspor should be quietly confident of their chances. Legia Warsaw was desperately unlucky to miss out on a place in the Champions League group stage after losing to Steaue Bucharest on away goals. Trabzonspor has the more experienced squad, with the likes of Jose Bosingwa, Florent Malouda and Didier Zokora among their ranks. Cypriot side Apollon Limassol has an outside chance should they both slip up.
Prediction: Lazio (winners), Trabzonspor (runner up)
The top two clubs are all but certain in this group. Tottenham’s improved depth, coupled with Anzhi’s fire sale makes the London side favourites to win Group K. Andrea Villas-Boas certainly had this competition in mind during the summer transfer window – Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Vlad Chiriches all played in last season’s Europa League, while Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue and Erik Lamela have also featured at numerous points in previous seasons. The battle for third between Tromso and Sheriff should be interesting. Actually, maybe not.
Prediction: Tottenham (winners), Anzhi Makhachkala (runner up)
The last group is perhaps the tightest of them all. AZ Alkmaar is undoubtedly the strongest side in the group, and managed to reach the quarter-final in 2011-2012. PAOK has a slight edge over Maccabi Haifa, and has the quality to even challenge for top spot. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of AZ Alkmaar, PAOK and Maccabi Haifa fails to qualify for the knockout stage. Shakter Karagandy might also cause a few upsets along the way.
Prediction: AZ Alkmaar (winners), PAOK (runner up)