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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Europa League team guide

Your guide to all 48 group-stage competitors

Arsenal and Everton will be representing England in this season's Europa League
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GROUP A
Villarreal
Country Spain
Manager Fran Escriba
The Yellow Submarine have regularly reached the business end of European competitions without ever winning – save for back-to-back triumphs in the now defunct Intertoto Cup in 2003-04.
Manager Fran Escriba was parachuted in at the last minute before the start of last season’s campaign and did well to lead Villarreal to a fifth-place finish, just five points adrift of Sevilla.
He looks to have strengthened over the summer, bringing in a number of new faces.

Maccabi Tel Aviv
Country Israel
Manager Jordi Cruyff
1Q Jun 29 Tirana (h) W 2-0
1Q Jul 6 Tirana (a) W 3-0
2Q Jul 13 KR (h) W 3-1
2Q Jul 20 KR (a) W 2-0
3Q Jul 27 Panionios (h) W 1-0
3Q Aug 3 Panionios (a) W 1-0
PO Aug 17 Rheindorf Altach (a) W 1-0
PO Aug 24 Rheindorf Altach (h) D 2-2
Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv are regular attendees in continental competition but they seldom escape the group stage.
They are coached by Jordi Cruyff, son of Johan and formerly of Manchester United, and his squad includes a rare Englishman abroad after Nick Blackman joined on loan from Derby in the summer.
Maccabi entered the competition at the first possible stage and won seven straight matches before twice coming from behind to beat Austria’s Rheindorf Altach on aggregate in the playoff round.

Astana
Country Kazakhstan
Manager Stanimir Stoilov
2Q Jul 12 Jurmala (a) W 1-0
2Q Jul 18 Jurmala (h) D 1-1
3Q Jul 26 Legia Warsaw (h) W 3-1
3Q Aug 2 Legia Warsaw (a) L 0-1
PO Aug 16 Celtic (a) L 0-5
PO Aug 22 Celtic (h) W 4-3
Three-time Kazakh champions Astana were hammered 8-4 on aggregate by Celtic in a Champions League playoff but will fancy their chances of at least being competitive in Group A.
Stanimir Stoilov’s team make their third foray into the group stage of European competition and are yet to finish higher than last place.
They are heavily reliant on home form – temperatures can drop as low as -50C in Astana – and must learn how to win on the road.

Slavia Prague
Country Czech Republic
Manager Jaroslav Silhavy
3Q Jul 25 Bate (h) W 1-0
3Q Aug 2 Bate (a) L 1-2
PO Aug 15 Apoel (a) L 0-2
PO Aug 23 Apoel (h) D 0-0
Slavia Prague ended Viktoria Plzen’s recent domination of the Czech First League when winning the title for the first time since 2009 last season but they failed to make the Champions League group stage following a 2-0 aggregate defeat to APOEL.
They last appeared in the Europa League group stage in 2009-10 but failed to win a game in a tough section featuring Valencia, Genoa and Lille and manager Jaroslav Silhavy will be hopeful that they can put up a fight this time.

GROUP B
Dynamo Kiev
Country Ukraine
Manager Alyaksandr Khatskevich
3Q Jul 26 Young Boys (h) W 3-1
3Q Aug 2 Young Boys (a) L 0-2
PO Aug 17 Maritimo (a) D 0-0
PO Aug 24 Maritimo (h) W 3-1
New boss Alyaksandr Khatskevich finds himself in the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions league on away goals by Young Boys of Switzerland.
Talented forward Andriy Yarmolenko left for Dortmund in the summer and will be hard to replace. Recent wins over teams such as Porto and Everton won’t be easy to replicate but a good home record in the competition could see them get out of the group.

Young Boys
Country Switzerland
Manager Adi Hutter
3Q Jul 26 Dynamo Kiev (a) L 1-3
3Q Aug 2 Dynamo Kiev (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 17 CSKA (h) L 0-1
PO Aug 24 CSKA (a) L 0-2
Having already beaten Europa group stage rivals, Dynamo Kiev, in Champions League qualifying, the Swiss will be hopeful of improving on last term’s outing where they finished behind Olympiacos but level on points.
A 3-1 victory over eventual group winners APOEL might give them the confidence to get to the next round this time. The club will be looking to bounce back after an impressive start to the season faded away with no win in their last four games.

Partizan Belgrade
Country Serbia
Manager Miroslav Dukic
3Q Jul 11 Buducnost (h) W 2-0
3Q Jul 18 Buducnost (a) D 0-0
3Q Jul 25 Olympiakos (h) L 1-3
3Q Jul 2 Olympiakos (a) D 2-2
PO Aug 17 Videoton (h) D 0-0
PO Aug 24 Videoton (a) W 4-0
After winning their sixth domestic double in 2016-17, Partizan have started the new season slowly but qualified for the Europa League with a convincing 4-0 aggregate win against Videoton.
Having spent no money on new players this year the club may struggle in the competition they failed to qualify for last year and will hope striker Tawamba Kana keeps up his good early season form to get them the goals they will need to make an impact.

Skenderbeu
Country Albania
Manager Ilir Daja
1Q Jun 29 Sant Julia (h) W 1-0
1Q Jul 6 Sant Julia (a) W 5-0
2Q Jul 13 Kairat (a) D 1-1
2Q Jul 20 Kairat (h) W 2-0
3Q Jul 27 Mlada (a) L 1-2
3Q Aug 18 Mlada (h) W 2-1
PO Aug 18 Din. Zagreb (a) D 1-1
PO Aug 25 Din. Zagreb (h) D 0-0
The Albanian side who won an unprecedented five domestic titles back-to-back fell from grace when they were banned from European competition last season.
Finishing third in the 2016-17 Superliga, they faced four rounds of qualification, scraping through on penalties and away goals to make the group stages for only the second time in their history.
That final playoff victory against Dinamo Zagreb will give them confidence they can hold their own against the bigger name teams they will face.

GROUP C
Braga
Country Portugal
Manager Abel Ferreira
3Q Jul 27 AIK (a) D 1-1
3Q Aug 3 AIK (h) D 1-1
PO Aug 17 FH (a) W 2-1
PO Aug 24 FH (h) W 3-2
Braga have become a Europa League fixture in recent years with the 2011 runners-up featuring in seven of the last nine editions.
The consistent Portuguese outfit have, however, failed to make it out of the group on three of their last four appearances.
Abel Ferreira’s side struggled through qualifying, squeezing past FH – a side ranked 169 places below them by Uefa – in the playoffs and may struggle to make the knockout phase for the second season running.

Ludogorets
Country Bulgaria
Manager Dimitar Dimitrov
2Q Jul 12 Zalgiris (a) L 1-2
2Q Jul 19 Zalgiris (h) W 4-1
3Q Jul 26 H Be’er Sheva (a) L 0-2
3Q Aug 2 H Be’er Sheva (h) W 3-1
PO Aug 17 Suduva (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 24 Suduva (a) D 0-0
The rise of Bulgarian champions Ludogorets since their formation has been a remarkable one.
In just 16 years the Eagles have become six-time winners of their domestic competition and have made the Champions League group stage twice.
Brazilians form a large portion of their first-team squad and that South American influence is evident in their expansive style on the pitch.
Ludogorets are rated 6-1 outsiders to win the group but that may undersell their ability. It would unwise to discount them totally.

Hoffenheim
Country Germany
Manager Julian Nagelsmann
PO Aug 15 Liverpool (h) L 1-2
PO Aug 23 Liverpool (a) L 2-4
At just 30 years old coach Julian Nagelsmann is causing waves in the Bundesliga with unfashionable Hoffenheim.
Nagelsmann led 1899 to their highest-ever domestic finish last term (fourth) and they have made a solid start to the new campaign, despite exiting the Champions League at the playoff stage at the hands of Liverpool
Known for their high-tempo, attacking game, this side should go deep into the competition.

Istanbul Basaksehir
Country Turkey
Manager Abdullah Avci
3Q Jul 27 Club Brugge (a) D 3-3
3Q Aug 2 Club Brugge (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 16 Sevilla (h) L 1-2
PO Aug 22 Sevilla (a) D 2-2
Turkey’s rising force came close to ousting Sevilla in the Champions League playoff round and will be looking to make their make on the Europa League.
Basaksehir pushed Besiktas all the way in last season’s Super Lig and manager Abdullah Avci has shown ambition in the hope of closing that gap this season.
The likes of Gael Clichy, Gokhan Inler and Eljero Elia have arrived at the Fatih Terim Stadium and this enterprising squad has the ability to cause a stir in Europe too.

GROUP D
Milan
Country Italy
Manager Vincenzo Montella
3Q Jul 27 Craiova (a) W 1-0
3Q Aug 3 Craiova (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 17 Shkendija (h) W 6-0
PO Aug 24 Shkendija (a) W 1-0
After four years without European football this giant of a club is reawakening.
Massive investment from their new Chinese owners could be about to re-establish the Rossoneri as chief rivals to Juventus for Serie A
domination and after a summer of lavish spending the San Siro looks set to regain its status as a fearful venue for visiting teams.
The gala name to arrive during a £150m summer spending spree was Juve defensive rock Leonardo Bonucci, but the likes of Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu will expect to make a serious impact once the squad has settled in.

Austria Vienna
Country Austria
Manager Thorsten Fink
3Q Jul 27 AEL Limassol (h) D 0-0
3Q Aug 2 AEL Limassol (a) W 2-1
PO Aug 17 Osijek (a) W 2-1
PO Aug 24 Osijek (h) L 0-1
Austria Vienna managed to qualify for the group stage despite losing at home to Osijek in the playoff qualifier.
They didn’t win any of their home games in last year’s group stage and have won only two of their last nine games at that stage of the competition.
One home win from three in the league suggests that this is a problem they need to overcome if they are to stand a chance of making it to the knockout stages for the first time since 2004-05.

Rijeka
Country Croatia
Manager Matjaz Kek
2Q Jul 11 TNS (h) W 2-0
2Q Jul 18 TNS (a) W 5-1
3Q Jul 26 Salzburg (a) D 1-1
3Q Aug 2 Salzburg (h) D 0-0
PO Aug 16 Olympiakos (a) L 1-2
PO Aug 22 Olympiakos (h) L 0-1
The Croatian club finds itself in the Europa League group stage for the third time in its history after losing their Champions League playoff against Olympiacos.
The team is unbeaten at home in the competition and includes an excellent 2-2 draw with Sevilla, who would go on to win the competition, in 2014-15 season, however they need to improve away having lost five of their six games away from Stadion Rujevica without scoring a single goal.

AEK Athens
Country Greece
Manager Manolo Jimenez
3Q Jul 25 CSKA (h) L 0-2
3Q Aug 2 CSKA (a) L 0-1
PO Aug 18 Club Brugge (a) D 0-0
PO Aug 25 Club Brugge (h) W 3-0
The Greek side appointed Manolo Jimenez as manager, their third of the season, for the second time in January and with him at the helm the clubs results improved enough to earn them a place in the Champions League third qualifying round.
A defeat to CSKA Moscow meant dropping down to the Europa cup where a good win against Club Brugge saw them make the group stage for the first time in six years.

GROUP E
Lyon
Country France
Manager Bruno Genesio
Lyon lost a number of big names in the summer, including Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal and Corentin Tolisso to Bayern Munich, but they’ve made a positive start in Ligue 1.
Mariano didn’t get a chance in an ultra-talented Real Madrid team but the striker has already made his mark at Parc Olympique Lyonnais – which will host the final of this competition – while Nabil Fekir is enjoying a resurgence after injuries hampered his 2016-17 campaign.
Beaten by Ajax in the semi-finals last season, OL will be expecting to get out of a tough group.

Everton
Country England
Manager Ronald Koeman
3Q Jul 27 Ruzomberok (h) W 1-0
3Q Aug 3 Ruzomberok (a) W 1-0
PO Aug 17 Hajduk Split (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 24 Hajduk Split (a) D 1-1
Everton made a number of eye-catching signings over the summer which prompted a gamble on them to challenge in the Premier League but domestic success is still likely to elude the Toffees.
Ronald Koeman has been busy in the transfer market but has arguably failed to replace the goals scored by Romelu Lukaku and that could hinder their progress, for all that they’re rated as favourites to top the group.
Expect them to take the competition seriously, particularly if they can’t go the pace in the Premier League.

Atalanta
Country Italy
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini
Atalanta punched above their weight in Serie A last season to finish fourth but the Goddess began the 2017-18 campaign with back-to-back losses against Napoli and Roma.
The Bergamo club return to European competition for the first time since reaching the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup in 90-91 and they are more than capable of making it to the knockout stages.
Gian Piero Gasperini lost influencial pair Andrea Conti and Franck Kessie to Milan in the summer but his young squad could continue to improve.

Apollon Limassol
Country Cyprus
Manager Sofronis Avgousti
2Q Jul 13 Zaria (h) W 3-0
2Q Jul 20 Zaria (a) W 1-2
3Q Jul 27 Aberdeen (a) L 1-2
3Q Aug 3 Aberdeen (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 17 Midtjylland (h) W 3-2
PO Aug 24 Midtjylland (a) D 1-1
Apollon Limassol dumped Aberdeen out of the Europa League in qualifying but the Cypriot club are likely to struggle against three opponents from Europe’s strongest leagues.
They make their third foray into the group stage of the competition, finishing third in 2013-14 and rock-bottom a year later, and they look to have little chance of doing any better.
Apollon will be hoping to repel the big names at the Tsirio Stadium but are 33-1 Group E rags.

GROUP F
Copenhagen
Country Denmark
Manager Stale Solbakken
2Q Jul 12 Zilina (a) W 3-1 
2Q Jul 19 Zilina (h) L 1-2
3Q Jul 25 Vardar (a) L 0-1
3Q Aug 2 Vardar (h) W 4-1
PO Aug 15 Qarabag (a) L 0-1
PO Aug 23 Qarabag (h) W 2-1
Danish champions Copenhagen held their own in the Champions League last term and they should throw down the biggest challenge to Lokomotiv Moscow.
Stale Solbakken’s troops haven’t enjoyed too much success on the European stage but their home form may be pivotal to their chances.
Copenhagen held Porto and Leicester before thumping Club Brugge on their own patch in the Champions League last term, and defeated 2016-17 runners-up Ajax in the first-leg of their Europa League last 16 tie at Telia Parken, and could win the group.

Lokomotiv Moscow
Country Russia
Manager Yuri Semin
Two-time semi-finalists Lokomotiv Moscow haven’t had a huge impact domestically and they qualified for the Europa League after winning the Russian Cup.
However, they have started this season’s campaign in flying form, winning six of their opening eight league games, and better is clearly expected.
They reached the last 32 two seasons ago and they look like a better side now but classy Copenhagen may have their measure.

Sheriff Tiraspol
Country Moldova
Manager Roberto Bordin
2Q Jul 12 Kukesi (h) W 1-0
2Q Jul 19 Kukesi (a) L 1-2
3Q Jul 25 Qarabag (a) D 0-0
3Q Aug 1 Qarabag (h) L 1-2
PO Aug 17 Legia Warsaw (a) D 1-1
PO Aug 24 Legia Warsaw (h) D 0-0
Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol should be tough to beat in their bid for a third consecutive domestic title but in Europe their success looks set to be kept to a minimum.
Sheriff defeated Polish outfit Legia Warsaw in qualifying for the competition but have started their domestic campaign slower than they would have liked and the result should be taken lightly.
Roberto Bordino’s men are ranked 159 in Europe’s rankings and they have never gone beyond the group stages. They look up against it.

Fastav Zlin
Country Czech Republic
Manager Bohumil Panik
Zlin are making their Europa League debut and their sixth-placed finish in last season’s Czech top-flight suggests they may struggle to land a blow.
Bohumil Panik’s men landed the Czech Cup to enter their name in the competition but they have plenty to prove at this level and group giants Copenhagen could teach them a harsh lesson.
They deserve their place here but they have won only two of their last 11 away league games and they are likely to falter on the road against strong opposition.

Group G
Viktoria Plzen
Country Czech Rep
Manager Pavel Vrba
3Q Jul 25 Steaua (a) D 2-2
3Q Aug 2 Steaua (h) L 1-4
PO Aug 17 AEK Larnaca (h) W 3-1
PO Aug 24 AEK Larnaca (a) D 0-0
Beaten by re-opposing Steaua Bucharest in Champions League qualifying six weeks ago, Viktoria recovered to comfortably beat AEK Larnace to a group-stage berth.
Pavel Vrba has returned for a second spell at the helm after spells with the Czech national side and Anzhi. Vrba guided Plzen to three consecutive knockout stage appearances in his first spell and is fancied by the layers to do the same this time.
Plzen have strengthened heavily in pre-season with a number of Czech internationals reuniting with their formal national boss.
They look to have a decent chance of bettering last season’s group-stage exit.

Steaua Bucharest
Country Romania
Manager Nicolae Dica
3Q Jul 25 Viktoria Plzen (h) D 2-2
3Q Aug 2 Viktoria Plzen (a) W 4-1
PO Aug 15 Sporting (a) D 0-0
PO Aug 23 Sporting (h) L 1-5
Romanian royalty Steaua are back in a European group stage for the first time since 2013.
For a club with a long-standing history of European success it’s perhaps surprising that they have never made it out of a group in seven attempts – including last season.
The vye for group favouritism with Viktoria Plzen, who they beat 6-3 on aggregate in Champions League qualifying, but are far from the force of old.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Country Israel
Manager Barak Bakhar
2Q Jul 12 Honved (h) W 2-1
2Q Jul 19 Honved (a) W 3-2
3Q Jul 26 Ludogorets (h) W 2-0
3Q Aug 2 Ludogorets (a) L 1-3
PO Aug 16 Maribor (h) W 2-1
PO Aug 22 Maribor (a) L 0-1
Israeli champions Hapoel have a miserable Europa League record (P18 W4 D4 L10) but are a side on the up and have their sights set on at least matching last season’s last-32 finish.
Barak Bakhar’s men beat Inter twice in a group also housing Southampton and Sparta Prague last term and must be confident of progressing from a much waeker section this year.
Bakhar boasts a squad brimming with internationals who were only denied a Champions League berth on away goals.

Lugano
Country Switzerland
Manager Pierluigi Tami
Beating Italian giants Inter in the second round of the 1995-96 Uefa Cup is undoubtedly Lugano’s finest hour in European football.
It’s unlikely the 2017 vintage will replicate such exploits although they should at least be competitive in one of the weakest sections.
The departure of Ezgjan Alioski, who scored 16 goals and assisted 14 last term, is a blow with the responsibility falling on Younes Bnou Marzouk to make sure his absence isn’t felt too keenly.

GROUP H
Arsenal
Country England
Manager Arsene Wenger
This is unchartered territory for the Gunners but they should achieve smooth passage out of the group.
Arsenal had been perennial qualifiers for the Champions League but find themselves in less illustrious company after missing out on a place at Europe’s top table for the first time in 20 years.
Arsene Wenger is likely to treat this competition with mild contempt early on but a place in the knockout stages should see the Frenchman become more interested the deeper his side go.
The Gunners are second favourites to lift the trophy and even with the arrival of the Champions League dropouts later on in the competition it’s hard not to see them making it to at the least the semis.

BATE Borisov
Country Belarus
Manager Alyaksandr Yermakovich
2Q Jul 12 Alashkert (h) D 1-1
2Q Jul 18 Alashkert (a) W 3-1
3Q Jul 25 Slavia Prague (a) L 0-1
3Q Aug 2 Slavia Prague (h) W 2-1
PO Aug 17 Oleksandria (h) D 1-1
PO Aug 24 Oleksandria (a) W 2-1
BATE are also more accustomed to Champions League football, but unlike Arsenal, they’re more likely to give the Europa League a go from the off.
Having dropped into the Europa League for the last two seasons following failures in the Champions League playoffs, Borisov will be familiar with their surroundings and expect to feature in the knockout stages.
Arsenal and Cologne are ahead of them in the qualification betting so the Belarusian champions will need to spring a surprise or two to prolong their involvement in the tournament.

Cologne
Country Germany
Manager Peter Stoger
The former German giants have hit hard times recently having been in Bundesliga 2 just three years ago.
Promoted as champions, the Billy Goats finished 12th then ninth but it was last season’s fifth place that sealed a return to European action for the first time since 1993.
Cologne are second favourites to make it out of the group but it looks like being a straight scrap between them and BATE Borisov to progress along with Arsenal.

Red Star Belgrade
Country Serbia
Manager Vladan Milojevic
1Q Jun 29 Floriana (a) W 3-0
1Q Jul 6 Floriana (h) D 3-3
2Q Jul 13 Irtysh (a) D 1-1
2Q Jul 20 Irtysh (h) W 2-0
3Q Jul 27 Sparta Prague (h) W 2-0
3Q Aug 3 Sparta Prague (a) W 1-0
PO Aug 17 Krasnodar (a) L 2-3
PO Aug 24 Krasnodar (h) W 2-1
Another fallen giant of European football and little is expected of the 1991 European Cup winners.
The Serbians finished second to bitter rivals Partizan last season and are likely to be more competitive trying to usurp their old foes domestically than they will be in this competition where they look out of their depth.

GROUP I
Salzburg
Country Austria
Manager Marco Rose
2Q Jul 11 Hibernians (a) W 3-0
2Q Jul 19 Hibernians (h) W 3-0
3Q Jul 26 Rijeka (h) D 1-1
3Q Aug 2 Rijeka (a) D 0-0
PO Aug 17 Viitorul (a) W 3-1
PO Aug 24 Viitorul (h) W 4-0
Like controversial German club RB Leipzig, Salzburg are backed by Red Bull and will wear a modified crest to circumnavigate Uefa’s sponsorship restrictions
They have dominated the Austrian Bundesliga since the energy drink giants bought the club in 2006 and progressed with a comfortable 7-1 aggregate playoff victory over Viitorul.
Narrowly failed to get out of a tough group last season but will be hopeful of making the knockout stages.

Marseille
Country France
Manager Rudi Garcia
3Q Jul 27 Oostende (h) W 4-2
3Q Aug 3 Oostende (a) D 0-0
PO Aug 17 Domzale (a) D 1-1
PO Aug 24 Domzale (h) W 3-0
The French giants have failed to contend on the domestic front thanks to the financial muscle of PSG and the magnificence of Monaco’s golden generation but they’re worthy favourites to escape from this group.
L’OM were strong at the Stade Velodrome last season, losing just twice in the league, but they were let down by their away form as they finished a long way shy of third.
Experienced manager Rudi Garcia should ensure they at least make the knockout stages.

Vitoria Guimaraes
Country Portugal
Manager Pedro Martins
Vitoria Guimaraes are forever in the shadow of Portugal’s big three and their European record isn’t much to write home about.
Pedro Martins’ side have qualified for European football frequently in recent years but had only once made it to the group stage, where they finished in third in 2013-14 and rarely looked like progressing further.
This looks like a decent opportunity for the Portuguese Cup finalists to make the knockout stages but they don’t have the financial clout that Portugal’s top sides possess.

Konyaspor
Country Turkey
Manager Mustafa Resit Akcay
Turkish cup winners Konyaspor finished third in the 2015-16 Super Lig to qualify for last season’s Europa League but, cup glory aside, they struggled on both the domestic and continental fronts.
Konyaspor finished ninth in the league and claimed one point from six Europa matches as they scored just twice. They must do better if they are to escape the group.
Mustafa Resit Akcay took over at the Konya Buyuksehir Stadium in the summer and the veteran manager has experience of this competition after he lead Osmanlispor to the last-16 last season. They eventually lost out to Olympiacos.

GROUP J
Athletic Bilbao
Country Spain
Manager Jose Angel Ziganda
3Q Jul 27 Dinamo Bucharest (a) D 1-1
3Q Aug 3 Dinamo Bucharest (h) W 3-0
PO Aug 17 Panathinaikos (a) W 3-2
PO Aug 24 Panathinaikos (h) W 1-0
Spanish opposition have won five of the last eight renewals of the Europa League and Athletic Bilbao look La Liga’s best chance of extending that elusive record.
Bilbao limped to a seventh-placed finish in La Liga last season but they are better than that and getting out the group stages should be a routine task.
The Lions are a dominant force on their own patch, visiting sides could struggle in the Basque country, and the tactically astute Jose Angel Ziganda is an excellent man to have at the helm.
Veteran Aritz Aduriz is a natural goalscorer, while the pace of Inaki Williams and trickery of Iker Muniain should cause plenty of problems.

Hertha Berlin
Country Germany
Manager Pal Dardai
Hertha Berlin are returning to the Europa League group stages after a seven-year absence and should provide Athletic Bilbao with stiff opposition.
The Germans are an exciting watch but defensively they are weak – they conceded more than any other top-six side last term – and they were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Brondby in qualifying last season.
However, teams will find it tough to overcome them in the German capital and in Davie Selke, who joined from RB Leipzig, they have a striker capable of hurting any defensive rearguard.[AA]

Zorya Luhansk
Country Ukraine
Manager Yuriy Vernydub
Ukranian outfit Zorya didn’t win a game in the group stages last season – they picked up just two points – and they look just as vulnerable this time round.
Being housed with Manchester United, Fenerbache and Feyenoord was always going to be a tall order but they are a side going in the wrong direction and a slow start to the season leaves a sour taste.
Zorya have picked up just eight points from their eight domestic games this term and are unlikelt to land a blow against Group J’s leading lights.

Ostersunds
Country Sweden
Manager Graham Potter
2Q Jul 13 Galatasaray (h) W 2-0
2Q Jul 20 Galatasaray (a) D 1-1
3Q Jul 27 Fola Esch (h) W 1-0
3Q Aug 3 Fola Esch (a) W 2-1
PO Aug 17 PAOK (a) L 1-3
PO Aug 24 PAOK (h) W 2-0
Group J rags Ostersunds finished mid-table in the Swedish top-flight last term and they look out of their depth against sides boasting stacks of European experience.
The Swedish side did well to defeat PAOK in qualifying but they had just 40 per cent possession and lost the shot count 13-2 in their 3-1 loss in Greece and away from home they could suffer a few heavy defeats.

GROUP K
Lazio
Country Italy
Manager Simone Inzaghi
Lazio have finished either first or second in each of their last four Europa League group stage campaigns and will expect another comfortable qualification this term.
However, the Eagles must improve on recent European performances if they are to make any real impact on the competition, with a 2013 Europa League quarter-final exit their best run in 11 seasons.
Despite not spending big over the summer the club have had a good pre-season – beating Juventus in the Super Cup – and they crushed Milan 4-1 in their first big Serie A clash of 2017-18.
But much rests on the shoulders of Ciro Immobile, whose goals may make or break Lazio’s season. He netted an impressive 23 times last term but was the only player still at the club with more than five.

Nice
Country France
Manager Lucien Favre
3Q Jul 26 Ajax (h) D 1-1
3Q Aug 2 Ajax (a) D 2-2
PO Aug 16 Napoli (a) L 0-2
PO Aug 22 Napoli (h) L 0-2
Nice came to the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League 4-0 on aggregate by Italian giants Napoli.
However, they bounced back from that disappointment to thrash champions Monaco 4-0 in Ligue 1
and will be expecting to make an impact on both European and domestic fronts this season.
With Mario Balotelli scoring more than a goal every two games since joining the club, the Eaglets will be confident of qualifying from the group stages.
Veteran pair Dante and Wesley Sneijder provide bags of potentially invaluable experience.

Zulte Waregem
Country Belgium
Manager Francky Dury
This is the fifth time minnows Zulte Waregem have competed in Europe, with their best results coming in away wins against Austria Vienna and Wigan.
Their youthful strikeforce have netted seven goals already this season in helping the team to the second best goal difference in the Belgian First Division, behind only Club Brugge.
A couple of good results in this tough group would go a long way to establishing them as one of Belgium’s big clubs.

Vitesse
Country Holland
Manager Henk Fraser
After being knocked out of the Europa League in qualifying in each of their last three European campaigns, Vitesse go straight into the group stage this time after winning the Dutch Cup for the first time in the club’s history.
They’ve made a good start in the league this season, featuring three wins from their first four games, and could be forced to prioritise either a good run in Europe or bettering their highest league position of this century.

GROUP L
Zenit
Country Russia
Manager Roberto Mancini
3Q Jul 27 Bnei Yehuda (a) W 2-0
3Q Aug 3 Bnei Yehuda (h) L 0-1
PO Aug 16 Utrecht (a) L 0-1
PO Aug 24 Utrecht (h) W 1-0
Zenit’s latest foray into European competition marks ten seasons since the Russians lifted the Uefa Cup against Rangers in Manchester.
Roberto Mancini is the latest high-profile manager to try his hand at replicating that triumph and has spent the off-season stamping his authority on the club.
Mancini has overseen a total overhaul of the squad but judged on an underwhelming playoff campaign it could take them time to gel. Look vulnerable group favourites. 

Real Sociedad
Country Spain
Manager Eusebio Sacristan
The heady days when Real Sociedad made the semi-finals of the European Cup have long since disappeared as the club from San Sebastian embark on just their fourth continental campaign this century.
A sixth-placed La Liga finish secured direct entry into the group stage for the Basques and they have a chance of topping a weak section.
Star left-back Yuri Berchiche has departed for PSG but Eusebio Sacristan still has a capable squad at his disposal.

Rosenborg
Country Norway
Manager Kare Ingebrigtsen
2Q Jul 12 Dundalk (a) D 1-1
2Q Jul 19 Dundalk (h) D 1-1
3Q Jul 26 Celtic (a) D 0-0
3Q Aug 2 Celtic (h) L 0-1
PO Aug 17 Ajax (a) W 1-0
PO Aug 24 Ajax (h) W 3-2
Rosenborg once again found their Champions League ambitions shattered at the playoff stage but the Norwegian champions rallied in great style to see off Ajax in the Europa League playoffs.
However, despite winning both legs against the Dutch side, they were second best in all stats bar the scoreline and whether they can ride their luck in the group stage is debatable.
Have not successfully navigated a group since 2000 and are up against it again.

Vardar
Country Macedonia
Manager Cedomir Janevski
2Q Jul 12 Malmo (a) D 0-0
2Q Jul 18 Malmo (h) W 3-1
3Q Jul 25 Copenhagen (h) W 1-0
3Q Aug 2 Copenhagen (a) L 1-4
PO Aug 18 Fenerbahce (h) W 2-0
PO Aug 25 Fenerbahce (a) W 2-1
Vardar became the first side from Macedonia to qualify for the group stages of a European competition courtesy of their unlikely playoff triumph over Turkish giants Fenerbahce.
At 25-1 to win their section and 4-1 to finish in the top two, the Macedonian champions are outsiders to continue their voyage of discovery.
They may struggle to do that, but it would be unwise to take them lightly given their performances in qualifying.

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