Europa League favourites: Top contenders to win UEL in 2023/2024 as Liverpool, Bayer Leverkusen lead pack

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While the Champions League draws the most attention each and every year, the next level of European competition plays for continental glory in the Europa League.

Often, the Europa League pits big clubs who had down seasons the year prior against Europe’s biggest upstarts hoping to stamp their name on the highest level and up their global perception for the coming years.

That’s exactly the case in the 2023/24 Europa League as top favourites Liverpool and Italian giants AC Milan hope to redeem their recent failures, as Bayer Leverkusen and Brighton & Hove Albion look to take a step up in the European club hierarchy.

The Sporting News reviews the favoured sides who could push for a Europa League trophy, which for some would unlock new fortunes on the horizon, while for others would signal a return to prominence amidst a larger turnaround.

FEATURE: Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso has used his love for football to transform the club

Who will win 2023/24 Europa League title? Top contenders

The favorite: Liverpool

There’s only one team that boasts both top talent and historical European pedigree in the field, and that’s Liverpool. Leading the Premier League table in mid-December while simultaneously blitzing their Europa League group, Jurgen Klopp’s coaching job this season has been impressive considering their extensive injury list.

The Reds completely transformed their midfield this past offseason, and the new additions are mostly proving as influential as they could have hoped. While there are still some defensive concerns, and equal blips in the finishing department up front, this Liverpool side is a deserved betting favorite to win the title, with exquisite talent and sensational depth to weather a heavy fixture schedule.

Navigating Mohamed Salah’s departure for the Africa Cup of Nations will be the biggest challenge, but they have the talent to overcome nearly any issue in the selection department, and a top coach to manage the personalities within the dressing room.

The top challenger: Bayer Leverkusen

Under rapidly rising managerial star Xabi Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen are one of the most enjoyable stories of the 2023/24 season. They sit top of the Bundesliga table through mid-December, and they remain the only club in Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues yet to suffer a single defeat this season, with an incredible 19 wins to just three draws across all competitions.

Hoping to erase the derisive “Neverkusen” nickname with silverware on multiple fronts this season, Alonso’s innovative 3-4-2-1 has combined energetic pressing with possessional dominance, taking the Bundesliga by storm and becoming the latest revolution in European tactics.

The question for Leverkusen is not “can they?” β€” that answer is emphatically positive β€” but instead “will they?” Leverkusen throughout the years have had the capability but not the execution, and this side lacks the depth to overcome any serious run of injuries. Alonso will have to be precise with how he manages the minutes of his most important players, but if he can keep them fit and at their best, this is unquestionably the most dangerous side in the Europa League.

MORE: Sudden juggernauts Bayer Leverkusen looking to erase the club’s historical misfortune

The Americans Abroad: AC Milan

Chelsea castoff Christian Pulisic has found new life in Italy, helping to lead AC Milan in the club’s resurgence. While they reached the Champions League semifinals last season, it always felt that squad was punching above its weight, barely clinging to fourth in the Serie A table down the stretch of the campaign.

They drew a brutal Champions League group this year, and while the UCL knockout stage was not to be, they managed to secure a place in the Europa League and will be one of the toughest teams remaining. Pulisic has been the team’s best attacker, with more goals and influence than even Portuguese star Rafael Leao, who has just returned from injury. Pulisic is playing alongside Yunus Musah who has worked hard to earn a place in the squad himself.

Yet if Milan are to advance deep into Europe and have a chance at the title, they unquestionably need Leao to find his best. He has largely played this season isolated from the rest of his squad and has seen his best moments when he combines with teammates in the attacking third. If Stefano Pioli can get Leao firing opposite a prolific Pulisic, this team has a chance at silverware, but as the calendar turns to 2024, they aren’t quite at their best yet β€” more is needed.

Just happy to be here: Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton & Hove Albion’s transformation first under Graham Potter and then under Roberto De Zerbi has been wonderful to watch. The small club has risen to milestone after milestone, and in their first European adventure, they are considered a contender to win the title. For fans, they’re just enjoying the ride, knowing that this is a rare occasion for most clubs of their stature, but that more could be on the horizon as well.

There can be real power in “we’re just happy to be here” if the players embrace the mentality of having nothing to lose. Yet this team isn’t one to look past, either. The Premier League has seemed to start figuring out De Zerbi’s tactical innovations, but Europe may not be as prepared to attack his transitional inventions. They will hope to draw teams from outside England, as opposed to being paired with domestic opposition.

Out to do it again: West Ham

After winning the club’s first major European trophy last season by lifting the Europa Conference League title, West Ham are on the hunt to take things a level further. Domestic results have been very spotty for David Moyes this season, but wins over Tottenham and Chelsea prove they are capable of securing results against big clubs.

They managed their Europa League group fixtures extremely well and found winning moments often, but tougher challenges lie ahead. Knowing relegation isn’t a likely event this season unless things go exceedingly sour, Moyes will be able to prioritise European play as he manages his squad, but they will still need to find more consistency to have a shot at winning a second consecutive continental crown, especially without the critical services of club legend Declan Rice this time around.

The Special Ones: AS Roma

Jose Mourinho is hoping to overturn his reputation as a three-year specialist, with Roma quietly sneaking up on the rest of Italy despite a squad beset by injuries. As the Europa League group stage concluded, Roma sport just one Serie A loss since the start of October, and while they failed to top their four-team table in Europe, they still prove a tough out for any side.

That’s the knock on Roma, though: they aren’t considered a dangerous opponent, only one that top sides will struggle to brush aside. Even as they reached the final last year and the semifinals in 2021, Roma often have to grind out results regardless of opposition, which can be an unsustainable method.

Yet with Romelu Lukaku in good form and Paulo Dybala healthy, Mourinho has possibly his most talented squad yet in the Italian capital, and if he can effectively manage both domestic and continental fronts, Roma can trouble teams enough to make a run.

How to watch Europa League around the world

  TV channel Streaming
USA Univision FuboParamount+
UK TNT Sports TNT Sports, Discovery+
Australia  β€” Stan Sport
Canada  β€” DAZN
India Sony TEN Sony LIV

USA: Across the United States, the entirety of the 2023/24 Europa League is available in English exclusively on Paramount+. Meanwhile, a Spanish-language broadcast is available on TUDN or its sister channel Univision. Both Spanish-language channels are available to stream on Fubo.

UK: Europa League matches are broadcast in the UK on TNT Sports and streamed on their site and app platforms plus additional options via discovery+.

Canada: Every Europa League game streams live on DAZN in Canada.

Australia: In Australia, every match of the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League streams on Stan Sport ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.

Teams in Europa League knockout stage 2023/24

As the group stage wraps up, the clubs still alive in the competition will be preparing themselves for the draw to come on Monday, December 18.

Those who finished first in their group will earn a bye to the Round of 16, while those finishing second in the group stage must navigate a playoff matchup against teams dropping down from the Champions League.

  1st in UEL Group
(Round of 16)
2nd in UEL Group
(Knockout playoff)
Drop from UCL
(Knockout playoff)
Group A West Ham Freiburg Galatasaray
Group B Brighton Marseille Lens
Group C Rangers Sparta Prague Braga
Group D Atalanta Sporting CP Benfica
Group E Liverpool Toulouse Feyenoord
Group F Villarreal Stade Rennes AC Milan
Group G Slavia Prague AS Roma BSC Young Boys
Group H Bayer Leverkusen Qarabag Shakhtar Donetsk

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