Aug 292014

The Europa League is a complicated beast, with Everton only having their place in pot three of the draw rubber-stamped on Thursday evening.

Now all the permutations and coefficients have been cleared up, it is possible to map out potential groups of death or, indeed, groups of life. Here’s a look at pots one, two and four – and which teams the Blues may want to draw or may want to avoid.


The team to avoid: Fiorentina

What they’re about: Iconic Serie A club who rose from the ashes of financial ruin at the turn of the millennium. La Viola have built a strong team and consistently challenge for the top three Champions League spots; a combination of big spending and good scouting sees them with a squad full of talented internationals.

Notable players: Colombian wide man Juan Cuadrado was one of the stars of the World Cup, leaving Fiorentina with a battle on their hands to keep him. He is part of a talented attacking line up which also includes Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez.

The team to meet: FC Copenhagen

What they’re about: Denmark’s most successful club and the current Danish Superliga champions, Copenhagen are seasoned European campaigners but do not quite hold the same fear factor as some of the other clubs in pot one. After overcoming Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, they were completely outclassed by Bayer Leverkusen (losing 7-2 on aggregate) in the play-off round, dropping them into the Europa League.

Notable players: Veteran Swedish defender Olof Mellberg is still going strong, despite nearing his 37th birthday, while talented young Dane Nicolai Jorgensen plays as a second striker and spent two years of his career with Bundesliga giants Leverkusen.

Could go either way: Napoli

What they’re about: Managed by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, Napoli have been one of the most consistent performers in Serie A over the past several years. But defeat to Athletic Bilbao showed their vulnerability to teams who press high and move well off the ball.

Notable players: Gonzalo Higuain is the star man up front for the Naples club, with other players such as Christian Maggio, Raul Albiol and Dries Mertens also in the squad.


The team to avoid: Wolfsburg

What they’re about: Bundesliga side who won the title in 2009, since fell away but have started to rise up the table once more. Dieter Hecking managed to take them to the cusp of Champions League football but they had to make do with a fifth-placed finish last season.

Notable players: Luiz Gustavo is the midfield general – and was one of Brazil’s better performers at the World Cup – while Ivica Olic and Kevin De Bruyne form a decent tandem in attack.

The team to meet: Steaua Bucharest

What they’re about: The most famous team in Romanian football who have struggled due to the decline of Romanian football in general. It speaks volumes their side is full of Romanian players who can’t get into the national side. Suffered a humiliating exit to Bulgarian side Ludogorets in the Champions League qualifier.

Notable players: Captain Cristian Tanase is a good midfielder who plays for the national side, while Alexandru Chipciu is the biggest hope in front of goal.

Could go either way: Celtic

What they’re about: The lone horse in Scotland’s one-horse race. Celtic have struggled without their Old Firm rival Rangers and seemed to have gone backwards despite guaranteed superiority in the Scottish Premiership.

The nights of beating Barcelona seem long gone and were eliminated from the Champions League twice this season under new boss Ronny Delia – but it’s still Celtic, and Glasgow would come alive for the visit of any English club, particularly one as good as Everton.

Notable players: Kris Commons is one of the main creative fulcrums for the Bhoys, while Emilio Izaguirre played at the World Cup with Honduras. Virgil van Dijk is their best defender and could move on.


The team to avoid: Qaraba? FK

What they’re about: Fancy a 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan? Thought not. Baku-based Qarabag are the most far-flung team in the competition – and also the reigning Azerbaijan Premier League champions.

It was their first title success in 21 years and, after dropping out of the Champions League qualifying stages, they stunned Dutch side FC Twente in the Europa League play-off round to guarantee their place in the group stages.

Notable players: Brazilian Reynaldo is Qaraba?’s main man. The 25-year-old, who counts Anderlecht and Cercle Brugge among his former clubs, netted 22 league goals last season to help secure the title.

The team to meet: HJK Helsinki

What they’re about: Finland’s most successful club, Helsinki qualified by winning the 2013 Veikkausliiga title and are on course to recapture their crown in 2014 (the Finnish season runs from April-October). But of all the sides in pot four, they should not be feared by the Blues. They edged into the group stages by beating Rapid Vienna 5-4 on aggregate.

Notable players: Former Chelsea and Birmingham City striker Mikael Forssell is now 33 and still banging in the goals for Helsinki. He returned to his first club following 14 years abroad in 2012.

Could go either way: FC Astra Giurgiu

What they’re about: Founded in 1921, Giurgiu did not break into Romanian top-flight football until 1998-99, backed by owner Ioan Niculae. They first tasted European football in 2012 and have qualified for this season’s Europa League by virtue of their Romanian Cup final win. Caused a stir by beating French giants Lyon in the play-off round to secure passage to the group stages.

Notable players: Attacking midfielder Constantin Budescu, 25, wears the number 10 shirt and the creative hub of Astra’s team. He bagged 20 goals in 39 games last season.

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