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Premier League teams should go through

Alexandre Lacazette left Lyon for Arsenal
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Group A
Villarreal, Astana, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Slavia Prague
Spanish opposition have won the Europa League in five of the last eight seasons and a Villarreal side who have invested well should take the world of beating in a tepid group.

The Yellow Submarine have regularly gone deep into European competitions and summer signings Ruben Semedo, Enes Unal, Pablo Fornals and Carlos Bacca have freshened up their ranks. Star striker Cedric Bakambu should ensure goals while the trickery of youngster Samu Castillejo may frighten opposing defences.

Maccabi Tel Aviv failed to progress from the group stages last term, losing to Dundalk en route, while Astana have won only one of their last 16 European away matches and road form could potentially cost them.

Slavia should pose the biggest threat but they are not prolific winners and can be opposed.

Group B
Dynamo Kiev, Young Boys, Partizan Belgrade, Skenderbeu
Young Boys knocked out Dynamo Kiev on away goals in the third qualifying round of the Champions League and the pair get the chance to do battle once more.

The Ukrainian runners-up are rated slight favourites to reverse the form but they failed to score on their trip to Switzerland and didn’t make the net bulge in three Champions League away matches last season.

Partizan Belgrade look booked for third ahead of Albanian minnows Skenderbeu, who have made the group stages for just the second time in their history.

Group C
Braga, Ludogorets, Hoffenheim, Istanbul Basaksehir
Four teams who pack a potent attacking force collide in Group C and and in an open betting heat there could be plenty of goals on offer.

However, the progressive Istanbul Basaksehir look the side to focus on. Turkey’s rising force pushed Europa League giants Sevilla close in the Champions League playoff round - losing 4-3 on aggregate - and they finished just four points behind Besiktas in the Super Lig last term.

Gael Clichy and Gokhan Inler are hardened additions to a talented squad, with the lively Eljero Elia playing off veteran Emmanuel Adebayor.

Hoffenheim are known for their high-tempo, attacking game and it would be no surprise to see them join the Turkish side in the knockout stages.

Group D
Milan, Austria Vienna, Rijeka, AEK Athens
Europa League favourites Milan are understandably a short price to win their group and it’s difficult to oppose the Rossoneri against such ordinary opposition.

The Italians scored ten goals without reply in humbling Romanian outfit Craiova and Macedonian table-toppers Shkendija in qualifying and they could thrive on their return to the European stage.

Group E
Lyon, Everton, Atalanta, Apollon Limassol
Lyon found youthful Ajax too strong in the semi-finals of this competition last term and, despite losing the expertise of prolific frontman Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal, they could brush aside Everton in the race for top honours.

The French side have recruited well over the summer and they have made an excellent start to the Ligue 1 campaign, while Everton have won just one of their opening four league games and have struggled to replace the goals scored by Romelu Lukaku.

Atalanta punched above their weight in Serie A last term but the departure of influential duo Andrea Conti and Franck Kessie to Milan could see them struggle to contain a lively Lyon.

Group F
Copenhagen, Lokomotiv Moscow, Fastav Zlin, Sheriff Tiraspol
Danish champions Copenhagen held their own in the Champions League last term and they should throw down the biggest challenge to group favourites Lokomotiv Moscow.

Copenhagen drew with Porto and Leicester before thumping Club Brugge 4-0 on their own patch in the Champions League last season. They defeated 2016-17 runners-up Ajax in the first-leg of their Europa League last 16 tie at Telia Parken and should fancy their chances.

Lokomotiv Moscow haven’t made a huge impact domestically and look too short, while Fastav Zlin and Sheriff Tiraspol should both be outclassed.

Group G
Steaua Bucharest, Plzen, Hapoel, Lugano
Group G is one of the more open betting heats and it’s difficult to be too buoyant about any of the four sides' winning prospects.  

Steaua Bucharest are marginally favoured by bookmakers but they won just one of their six matches in the group stage last term and already find themselves four points behind league leaders Cluj in the domestic title race.

Hapoel Be'er Sheva are an improving unit - they held Southampton twice and did the double over Inter last season - and at 5-1 could surprise a few people.

Group H
Arsenal, Cologne, BATE Borisov, Red Star Belgrade
Manchester United's Europa League success last season should encourage Arsene Wenger to take the competition seriously and smooth passage to the knockout stages looks likely.

Cologne should offer the stiffest resistance but they have lost their opening three league games this term, shipping seven goals in the process, and topping the group should prove a formality for the Gunners.


Read more

Arsenal v Cologne

Atalanta v Everton


Group I
Marseille, Salzburg, Vitoria Guimaraes, Konyaspor
Home form is pivotal to Marseille’s chances and the French giants are worthy favourites to escape from a winnable group.

Rudi Garcia’s men lost just two Ligue 1 matches at the Stade Velodrome last season and if their form on the road holds up they should take some stopping.

Salzburg have dominated the Austrian top flight since 2006 and, having narrowly failed to get out of a tough group last season, they may be hopeful of making the knockout rounds. 

Vitoria are steadily improving but they don’t have the financial clout to make an impact on the European scene and Konyaspor  managed only a ninth-place finish in an uncompetitive Turkish top flight.

Group J
Athletic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin, Zorya, Ostersunds
Group favourites Athletic Bilbao lack consistency but 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. The Lions are a talented bunch and it would be disappointing if they couldn't achieve Group J supremacy.

Group K
Lazio, Nice, Zulte Waregem, Vitesse
Nice impressed in Ligue 1 last season and Lucien Favre - despite losing Brazilian full-back Dalbert - has significantly strengthened over the summer. They are difficult to break down and their recent 4-0 thumping of rivals Monaco suggests they can make an impact in Europe.

Mario Balotelli continues to score goals while the recruitment of veteran pair Dante and Wesley Sneijder offers vital top-class experience. 

Lazio are favourites but much of their success depends on the form of free-scoring forward Ciro Immobile and a quarter-final exit in 2013 was their best run in 11 seasons. 

Group L
Zenit, Real Sociedad, Rosenborg, Vardar
Roberto Mancini has taken over the reins at Zenit but the Russian outfit have seen a huge turnaround in players and following an underwhelming playoff campaign they make little appeal.

Real Sociedad are a formidable force on their own patch and Eusebio Sacristan has an experienced squad to go to war with. Rosenborg are lively outsiders - they knocked out Ajax in qualifying, and shouldn't be underestimated.

Recommendations
Istanbul Basaksehir to win Group C
1pt 5-2 bet365, Sky Bet
Lyon to win Group E
2pts 6-4 Betway, Hills
Copenhagen to win Group F
2pts 11-8 Betway, Sky Bet
Hapoel Beer-Sheva to win Group G
1pt 9-2 Betway


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Atalanta punched above their weight in Serie A last term but the departures of Andrea Conti and Franck Kessie to Milan could see them struggle
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