The Three English participants in this years Europa League should comfortably progress to the group stages thanks to being handed relatively straight forward ties.
Manchester City, who finished 5th in the Premier League last season have what should be a fairly straight forward task against FC Timisoara of Romania who just scraped past Finnish Minnows MyPa 1947 in the qualifying rounds. Unless Manchester City decide they don’t want to compete in this competition and put out a youth side there progression looks assured.
Aston Villa might have a bit more of a problem against Austrian side Rapid Vienna who boast several internationals in their squad and are 32 times Austrian Champions. They also have some European pedigree having twice reached the old Cup Winners Cup Final. If any of the English clubs are likely to struggle it will be them. Martin O’Neil will need to put out a full strength squad if they are to progress to the group stages.
Liverpool have a potentially tricky but very winnable tie against Turkish side Trabzonspor, who although not a household name in the UK are the most successful Turkish club who are not based in Istanbul, having won the league 6 times and the main domestic cup 8 times. The clubs have met once before in Europe in the 1976-7 season in the European Cup ( the Champions League predecessor) 2nd round. Liverpool won 3-1 on aggregate but did lose 1-0 in the away leg before going on to lift the trophy for the 1st time.
Overall it will be a bit of a surprise if England doesn’t have all three teams in the group stages, although if one is to miss out it will probably be Villa.
The same cant be said for the remaining Scottish sides all of whom face tough tasks and it is not inconceivable that all three could miss out on the group stages.
Celtic face Dutch side FC Utrect, who finished 7th in the Eredivisie last season should be no match for the Scottish side, however Celtic being poor travelers will want to get a good lead in the home leg and anything less than a win at Park Head will probably se them go out. Still their spirited Emirates Cup performance and passable result against Braga should see them start favourites for this game.
Dundee United have a very tough draw, taking on Greek side AEK Athens who have played in Europe every year since the 1991-2 season and are veterans of 180 European games, including wind in the group stages of the Champions league. They made the group stage last season but heavy defeats by Everton effectively ended their hopes of further progress. Dundee United however are a team on the up and will enter the competition full of confidence thanks to an excellent SPL season. They also collected the Scottish Cup thanks to a comfortable win over Ross County. This one could be close but hopefully the Scots side will do enough to prevail.
Motherwell who have had to come through two qualifying games to reach this stage having first beat Breioablik of Iceland and then Aalesunds of Norway, will be hoping to make it three Scandanavian wins in a row when they face Denmark’s OB Odense. Odense are no world beaters and are currently languishing in 6th place in the Danish League although with only 3 matched played its early days. Motherwell have done really well to reach this stage given their limited resources and unfortunately this may be where their European Adventure ends.
Finally it is great to see Wales have a representative at this stage in the shape of The New Saints (TNS),who qualified by virtue of their Champions league achievements. TNS had a big European night against belgian side Andrelect and now have another nice tie against experience Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, who put Cliftonville out in the last round.
Much as I would like to see TNS go through there is no way that they can overcome a side of CSKA’s caliber. Despite this hopefully the people of Wales will turn out and give them some decent support.
So overall we expect Liverpool Man City & Villa to progress without too much fuss, Celtic to scrape through thanks to their home form, Dundee United to just sneak it and Motherwell and TNS to bow out.
Still 5 British clubs in the group stages is a good result and if they take the tournament serious then a repeat of last seaons successes looks on the cards.
Europa League play-off draw in full:
Liverpool (England) v Trabzonspor (Turkey)
FC Timisoara(Romania) v Manchester City (England)
Rapid Vienna (Austria) v Aston Villa (England)
Celtic v Utrecht (Holland)
Dundee United v AEK Athens (Greece)
OB Odense (Denmark) v Motherwell
CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) v TNS (Wales)
Besiktas(Turkey) v HJK Helsinki (Finland)
Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia) v VfB Stuttgart (Germany)
Sibir Novosibirsk (Russia) v PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)
BATE Borisov (Belarus) v Maritimo (Portugal)
Luzern (Switzerland) v Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)
Gyor ETO (Hungary) v Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
PAOK Salonika (Greece) v Fenerbahce (Turkey)
Villarreal (Spain) v Dnepr Mogilev (Belarus)
Paris St Germain (France) v Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)
Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) v Tavria Simferopol (Ukraine)
CSKA Moscow (Russia) v Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus)
Hajduk Split (Croatia) v Unirea Urziceni (Romania)
Feyenoord (Netherlands) v Ghent (Belgium)
Racing Genk (Belgium) v Porto (Portugal)
Debrecen (Hungary) v Litex Lovech (Bulgaria)
Aris Saloniki (Greece) v Austria Vienna (Austria)
Galatasaray (Turkey) v Karpaty Lviv (Ukraine)
Palermo (Italy) v Maribor (Slovenia)
Club Bruges (Belgium) v Dinamo Minsk (Belarus)
Omonia (Cyprus) v Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine)
Vaslui (Romania) v Lille (France)
Napoli (Italy) v Elfsborg Boras (Sweden)
Sporting (Portugal) v Brondby (Denmark)
Grasshoppers (Switzerland) v Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Borussia Dortmund (Germany) v Garabagh Agdam (Azerbaijan)
AIK Stockholm (Sweden) v Levski Sofia (Bulgaria)
Sturm Graz (Austria) v Juventus (Italy)
Getafe (Spain) v APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) v FK Atyrau (Kazakhstan)
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk(Ukraine) v Lech Poznan (Poland)