Europa League draw analysed: The biggest matches, key clashes and potential shocks

Manchester United and Arsenal were among the names in the hat for the Europa League group-stage draw.

It will be fast and furious this season, with a condensed eight-week group stage in which clubs will play six matches between September 8 and November 3 to allow the competition to pause for the World Cup in Qatar, which begins in mid-November.

Here’s what our writers are looking forward to…


Which group gets you most excited? 

Dermot Corrigan: Group D may not have as many historic names as some others, but the games between Braga, Malmo, Union Berlin and Royale Union Saint-Gilloise will have lots of young talents on show. Union and St Gilloise in particular are two of Europe’s most interesting emerging clubs — there is a contrast between the Germans’ alternative community-driven progress and the Belgians’ numbers-driven rapid success but both will fancy their chances of going far in the competition. 

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James Horncastle: Group F gets the balance right between plausible Champions League group without an elite contender and full-fat gimme-some Europa League action. Monaco perhaps would have been in the top tier European competition had they replaced Aurelien Tchouameni before their play-off against PSV Eindhoven. Red Star need to get over that Milan Pavkov stoppage-time own goal which let Maccabi Haifa qualify for the Champions League at their expense.

Turkish champions Trabzonspor may have let Gervinho go but could still make this group interesting, while Ferencvaros will dream of reaching the final in Budapest. After all, dreaming costs nothing.

Which big teams might struggle?

Horncastle: I was shocked to see Olympiacos get turned over 4-0 by Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League preliminaries. They then needed to overcome a penalty shootout against Slovan Bratislava just to make the group stages of this competition. Slovan’s English striker Andre Green gave the Greek champions a real scare.

Freiburg were a revelation in the Bundesliga last season and have picked up where they left off despite losing Nico Schlotterbeck to Dortmund. I’m intrigued about Nantes too after they upset Nice in last season’s Coupe de France final. They haven’t started the season well in Ligue 1 and may yet lose Ludovic Blas but this is a balanced group. Top seeds Olympiacos have a fight on their hands. 

Corrigan: Manchester United should not be struggling to get out of a Europa League group but their draw is not a gimme. Real Sociedad are really well coached, matched United when the teams met in this competition two seasons ago, and former Manchester City playmaker David Silva just might do something special against his old team’s rivals. Third seeds Sheriff Tiraspol are less well-known, but the Moldovans raised themselves to beat Real Madrid home and away in their Champions League group last season.

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FC Sheriff: the Moldova minnows who beat Real Madrid and now face Man Utd

If you could have a ticket to one match it would be?

Raphael Honigstein: I’d love to see Union Berlin play their first ever Europa League match, whatever the opposition. It’s worth remembering just how incredible their journey has been, with promotion to the Bundesliga in 2019 capped by qualifying for Europe for two seasons in succession. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of SC Freiburg by the way.

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Corrigan: It could get tasty when Jose Mourinho’s Roma face Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis in group C. “When I leave Madrid, it won’t be for Malaga,” Mourinho cuttingly said when they first met in La Liga a decade ago, and the rivalry continued through regular Premier League meetings more recently, including Pellegrini’s West Ham beating Mourinho’s United 3-1 in 2018-19. Betis fans are sure to back their man when Mourinho visits the Estadio Benito Villamarin. 

Mourinho, Pellegrini


Tottenham Hotspur manager Mourinho and West Ham United boss Pellegrini on the touchline in 2019 (Photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Horncastle: I’m with Derm on this. As much as I’d go to every Real Sociedad home game for the food in San Sebastian, I’ll be joining our La Liga correspondent down in Andalucia.

This was already tasty in the summer of 2021 when a friendly at the Benito Villamarin boiled over. Roma had three players sent off between the 59th and 78th minute. Betis were 3-2 up at the time of the first red card and ended up 5-2 winners. They’ve since added former Lazio centre-back Luiz Felipe so expect a Derby della Capitale element to this one.

Betis should represent a good step up for Roma, who won the Europa Conference League last season and made the semi-finals of this competition in 2021. Mourinho has already won the Europa League twice and will be looking to add a yellow and red dot to the unique tattoo on his bicep. 

Who is going to provide the biggest upset?

Horncastle: One swallow doesn’t make a summer so I’m hesitant about calling Manchester United upset-proof in the afterglow of Monday’s impressive win against Liverpool. Erik ten Hag has banged on about attitude over the last fortnight and if United underestimate one of their opponents then we could get a replay of those frankly hilarious scenes against Basaksehir in the Champions League two years ago. Sheriff shocked eventual winners Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last season so I doubt I’m the only one who’ll be watching their game against United with a sense of trepidation. 

Honigstein: The biggest upset will be Mourinho’s Roma beating Manchester United in the quarter-finals.


And now for analysis of the English clubs’ draws…

Arsenal by Art de Roche

Opponents: PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich

First impressions: Arsenal have had a fairly good draw. PSV will provide decent competition in terms of who tops the group and have started well in the Eredivisie with two wins from two at the start of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s first season in charge.

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Bodo/Glimt: A Norwegian fairytale based on ‘overtraining’, reinvention and ‘X-factor players’

Elsewhere, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich should be good opportunities to rotate the side when necessary, whether that is to give first-team players minutes or potentially give chances to youngsters who are impressing. 

What looks like the key game and why?

PSV Eindhoven, for sure. They will be disappointed to be in the Europa League having lost in the Champions League play-offs against Rangers, but will give Arsenal their toughest test. 

Ruud van Nistelrooy


Arsenal will come up against a familiar face when they meet Van Nistelrooy’s PSV side (Photo: Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images)

The scheduling of these fixtures in particular could be important as Mikel Arteta will have a tough October regardless, playing Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League that month.

That being said, Bodo/Glimt did beat Jose Mourinho’s Roma twice last season.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

The answer at the moment would be Cody Gakpo, but that would depend on whether PSV can keep him amid interest from Manchester United.

He is an intriguing forward as, despite mostly being used as a left winger, he seems to have the qualities of a centre-forward. With a good level of technical ability, speed and height, he does not just score goals but assists often too (three goals and four assists in all competitions this season), which will make his development interesting to watch wherever he plays.

Cody Gakpo, PSV


Manchester United are interested in signing Gakpo (Photo: Michael Bulder/NESImages/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

PSV also have 19-year-old Xavi Simons who signed from Paris Saint-Germain this summer. The midfielder has started well in the Eredivisie with two goals and two assists in two games and has been a highly rated prospect in Europe for the past few seasons, so getting a gauge for his level will be exciting.

What should the rest of the pool expect from Arsenal? 

It is unlikely that Thursday nights will see the Arsenal that has started the Premier League season so strongly. Gabriel Jesus, for instance, will not need midweek minutes in Europe — they can be given to Eddie Nketiah instead. In Arsenal’s last Europa League campaign, Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell were given minutes.

The early weeks may see established first-team players included to improve their match fitness and sharpness, however. Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira are players who may benefit from this.

What should Arsenal expect from PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and FC Zurich?

PSV Eindhoven have been playing in a 4-3-3 throughout the year and have scored at least twice in four of their six games. 

They do look to play from the back, and were punished by Rangers when doing so on Thursday, but still manage to create good chances.

Bodo/Glimt are also set up in a 4-3-3 shape and have been in good form, scoring 20 goals in their past five matches. One thing to note, however, is their season runs from April until November, so scheduling may also impact them depending on where they stand in the Eliteserien and whether their league campaign has finished.

Europa League


Glimt reached the Europa Conference League quarter-finals last season (Photo: Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

FC Zurich have flitted between a back three and back four this season and have struggled in the season’s opening weeks: they are still looking for their first league win of the term and are bottom of the Swiss Super League with just two points. Should that continue, it may be a case of Arsenal having to break down a team who sit back and hit them on the counter, which they did well in qualifying against Hearts.

Manchester United by Carl Anka

Opponents: Real Sociedad, Sheriff Tiraspol, Omonia Nicosia

First impressions: “That’s a lot of travel and a lot of unforeseen variables.”

Manchester United should have more than enough to navigate their way through this Europa League group, but long distances to travel and opposition teams who are hard(er) to gauge puts Erik ten Hag in a delicate situation. Does he use these six games as a chance to give fringe players and academy graduates the opportunity to strut their stuff? Or does he play his strongest sides in order to build momentum and further buy-in on his tactical principles?

Ten Hag


Ten Hag will have to decide how to approach the Europa League (Photo: Getty Images)

Ten Hag will have to play his hand carefully: half of these group games will be played in October when United are already scheduled to face Manchester City, Everton, Newcastle United, Chelsea and West Ham.

What looks like the key game and why?

United’s main threat to topping the group should be Real Sociedad, but a slip-up against Sheriff Tiraspol away could set the cat among the pigeons. The Moldovan side are likely to play their away tie in the 10,400-seat Zimbru stadium in Chisinau, rather than the Sheriff sports area in the disputed region of Transnistria, but the journey, and opposition, are sure to be a challenge.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

The answer is still David Silva. The 36-year-old continues to be a fine midfield operator, adding sparkle to a Sociedad side. Believe the football hipster hype. Plus football and food in San Sebastian are like no other.

David Silva


Silva remains box office (Photo: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Also keep an eye on Sociedad centre-back Robin Le Normand. The 25-year-old Frenchman has the glow of a man about to get linked to a bottom-half Premier League club. In a nice way.

What should the rest of the pool expect from United?

A different starting XI to Ten Hag’s Premier League outings. If Cristiano Ronaldo decides to stay at United this season, it is hard to imagine “The Champions League’s Greatest Ever Goalscorer” starting Europa League games in Moldova and Cyprus.

Ronaldo


Would Ronaldo fancy a Thursday night match in Cyprus? (Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Ten Hag is the only Premier League manager to have made 15 substitutions across his opening three games. He has often stressed the importance of a squad and assures us that no United player will feature in every game this season. This is a United side slowly learning to play the Dutchman’s possession-based, pressing style of football. There will be a lot of young players and fresh energy in these Europa League outings. Zidane Iqbal, who impressed on pre-season tour, could be a hidden Europa group stage gem.

What to expect from Real Sociedad, Sheriff Tiraspol and Omonia Nicosia:

United defeated a stronger Real Sociedad in the Europa League round of 32 in 2020-21 but Imanol Alguacil’s side are no slouches. Alexander Isak has now left for Newcastle United but Real Sociedad continue to play in a possession-based style. In recent seasons, United have had difficulty against sides who can use possession as a defensive tool. Sociedad are a little fragile on defensive transition but know how to play “keep ball”.

Sheriff Tiraspol shocked Europe by beating Real Madrid home and away in the Champions League group stages last season. They are a solid and often physical football team, fond of a 4-3-3 and quick balls for Nigerian attackers Ibrahim Akanbi Rasheed and Iyayi Believe Atiemwen to run onto.

Managed by former Celtic manager Neil Lennon, Omonia Nicosia will be the biggest unknown of group E. The Cypriot side surprised K.A.A Gent in the Europa League qualifiers with two hard-fought 2-0 victories. Lennon favoured a 4-5-1 shape in both play off games. They will not be a soft touch.

All of United’s opponents in the group stage will be hoping for a “historic victory” over Ten Hag’s side, that’s for sure.

(Top photo: Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)



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