After the Champions League broke back into the limelight this week, the Europa League will star again in earnest on Thursday. 48 teams will compete across 12 groups, however Europa League betting has singled out a handful of teams to watch, who will all be in action and looking to start their campaign with a win; the standout ties from round one are as follows:
Udinese vs Anzhi Makhachkala
Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese side defied the odds last season to finish third in Serie A, and qualify for the playoff round of the Champions League. Unfortunately the Udine outfit came unstuck against Braga, losing out on penalties and as a result now competing in the Europa League.
Udinese have been rocked by the sale of a number of key players this summer, namely Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla and Samir Handanovic. Despite a slow start in Serie A this term and only one point from their first three games, Guidolin’s men could well continue to cause and upset or two and will be a difficult customer, especially in Italy.
Anzhi Makhachkala are bankrolled by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and have started to slowly but surely push themselves into the European spotlight. The Dagestan-based outfit have splurged on a number of superstars in recent transfer windows, including the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Yuri Zhirkov and most-recently Lassana Diarra.
Guus Hiddink’s men have won their last five games and will look to progress from their fifth-placed finish domestically from 2011-12. A progressive European campaign will also help to see their stock rise, and the eastern European powerhouses will look to get out of the group as a minimum.
Tottenham vs Lazio
Tottenham suffered the acrimony of finishing fourth in the Premier League last term but missed out on Champions League due to Chelsea’s heroics in Munich. Despite this, Andre Villas-Boas tasted Europa League triumph in 2010-11 with Porto and has ensured supporters that the north Londoners will be taking the competition seriously this term
A 3-1 win over Reading last time out gave the Portuguese trainer his first victory in the White Hart Lane hotseat, and the team are looking to bed the likes of Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson into comfortable surrounds. If Spurs play their main players there is no reason that they cannot challenge for the trophy.
Lazio narrowly missed out on Champions League football last term, finishing fourth in Serie A in an impressive campaign. The capital-city side have replaced Edy Reja with Vladimir Petkovic in the summer, and have started 2012-13 with three wins from three games.
The Biancocelesti have largely the same squad from last term, with no major signings or sales in the summer. Spurs were linked with moves for Lazio duo Hernanes and Miroslav Klose in the transfer window, and the pair will be out to impress in England.
Inter vs Rubin Kazan
Inter have suffered a dramatic fall from grace since Jose Mourinho led them to Champions League success, with Rafa Benitez, Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri all trying and failing to turn the Giuseppe Meazza outfit’s fortunes around.
Andrea Stramaccioni has steadied the ship slightly and the club will look to challenge for honours in 2012-13. Alvaro Pereira and Antonio Cassano, amongst others, have been added in the summer, and the Nerazzurri will fancy their chances of progression from their pool.
Rubin Kazan have been a European competitor over the last number of seasons and finished sixth in the Russian Premier League last term. Kurban Berdyev has a side of predominantly homegrown players, but foreign additions such as Salvatore Bocchetti and summer signing Salomon Rondon add quality.
The Russians will look to qualify from a tough group as they did last year, but will recognise the fact that they will go into this clash as second favourites. A draw would be a welcome result for the visitors given two defeats domestically back-to-back of late.
Fenerbahce vs Marseille
Fenerbahce finished second in the Turkish Super Lig last term, but came unstuck against Spartak Moscow in the qualifying round of the Champions League, losing 3-2 on aggregate. Aykut Kocaman’s men will feel that they have a better chance of a prolonged European campaign in the Europa League however, and certainly will be a daunting host for Marseille on Thursday.
The Sukru Saracoglu Stadium outfit have invested wisely in the summer, adding recognised European names Raul Meireles, Dirk Kuyt and Milos Krasic to their squad. Fener are unbeaten domestically in four games without really impressing, and will look to kickstart their season with victory here.
Marseille had a Champions League adventure to the knockout stages last season, but as a result their Ligue 1 form suffered and Les Phoceens ended up finishing in 10th place. Didier Deschamps has left to take on the France national post, with Elie Baup the man in the Stade Velodrome hotseat now.
Marseille did sell Cesar Azpilicueta, Stephane M’Bia and Alou Diarra in the summer, but the club’s faithful will be glad that their star attackers such as Loic Remy and the Ayew brothers were not offloaded. Joey Barton is line for a debut following his loan move from QPR, and OM will look to build on their perfect start domestically after five straight victories in Ligue 1.