England’s best and brightest are about to head back into European competition in the coming weeks and it’s not just the Champions League that’s garnering attention.
West Ham fans can finally begin to celebrate last season’s sixth place successes. David Moyes’ men are about to head back into Europe for the first time since their ill-fated false start back in 2016.
Rewind the tape five years back when Slaven Bilic’s side failed to make the grade at their first chance, dropping out to Romanian team Astra Giurgiu in the third qualifying round.
Lightning won’t be striking twice this time round at any rate, with the Hammers gliding into the competition from the group stage.
In fact several of the best betting sites in Australia are currently backing West Ham as one of the favourites to lift this year’s Europa League. Moyes’ side are currently one of the top four favourites to lift a major European honour.
However West Ham will have to overcome some serious opposition if they’re to make an impact in this year’s Europa League. Some of Europe’s glitterati will be heading into the Europa League group stages to compete for European silverware, and will be gunning to get one over on English opposition.
A total of 32 teams will be featuring in this year’s competition which sees a format halved in size from last year’s 64-side tournament. The overspill have been placed into UEFA’s new marquee tournament, the UEFA Conference League.
The likes of Spanish teams Real Sociedad and Real Betis as well as Italians Napoli and Lazio are more than familiar with this competition and will prove difficult opposition should they come up against any of the remaining competitors.
Last year’s fifth place finishers and FA Cup Winners Leicester City are a side with renewed gusto under former Liverpool and Celtic manager Brendan Rogers. Despite floundering flat on their faces to West Ham just this week, the Foxes are still tipped to go all the way in Europe.
Remaining favourites to lift the Europa League trophy in Tirana, Albania next May are the aforementioned Italian sides, as well as French hopefuls and fierce domestic rivals Lyon and Marseille. German sides Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt are also in contention.
The final qualifying stages are set to take place this week which will complete the 32-side pot. Ten teams still have to qualify for the group stage proper with the likes of Glasgow duo Rangers and Celtic still to seal their spots in the competition.
Steven Gerrard’s side still have the tricky task of having to overcome a single goal deficit away to Alashkert in a trip which will see them travel to Armenia, while Celtic can settle for a draw and still progress in their travels to Alkmaar in Holland.
Other sides still to qualify that could pack a serious punch are two Istanbul heavyweights Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe who both have to overcome Nordic opposition in Randers of Denmark and HJK Helsinki of Finland respectively.
West Ham are currently unbeaten across both pre-season and the two opening Premier League matches. The Hammers are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table after scoring four goals apiece in the league away to Newcastle, and more recently in the home opener to Leicester.
Experience in Europe comes at a premium and juggling two competitions will become a tricky prospect should David Moyes guide his side into the latter stages. For the meantime, all eyes will be on Friday’s draw at midday in England.
The tournament begins with matchday one on 16 September with games taking place on Thursdays.