Europa League 2020/21 – With Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester and AC Milan among those vying for European glory, who will take home the crown?

With the Europa League return on the horizon, we profile 10 of the biggest names in the competition looking to lift the trophy this season.

By Robert Cottingham Published: 14 October 2020 - 5.09pm

Two months after Sevilla clinched Europa League glory for a record sixth time, the Europa League returns with the 2020/21 group stages.

A sensational summer tournament in Germany concluded the last campaign, with a series of one-legged knockout ties culminating in a five-goal thriller of a final between Sevilla and Inter Milan.

Now, with all 12 groups and 48 teams decided, the action begins on Thursday 22 October and here we give you a rundown of the 10 top contenders for glory.

Don’t forget, BT Sport – your undisputed home of European football – will once again be with you every step of the way this season, with exclusive live coverage of every single game from both the Champions League and Europa League on TV and on btsport.com and the award-winning BT Sport app.

Arsenal

Odds – 7/1

Manager – Mikel Arteta

Captain – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Best previous result – Two-time finalists (2000 & 2019)

Last year – Lost to Olympiacos in Round of 32

Group B – Rapid Wien, Molde & Dundalk

Though Mikel Arteta will have ambitions of Champions League qualification this campaign, Arsenal are now very much at home in the Europa League with this their fourth straight season in the competition.

The Gunners enter as favourites, but last season represented a big disappointment. After semi-final and final appearances in 2018 and 2019, being knocked out in the Round of 32 by Olympiacos was a significant step in the wrong direction.

Arteta was new in the job at the time however and with 10 months under his belt as Arsenal’s No 1, there’ll be no excuses this time.

With the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian and now Thomas Partey, the Gunners possess a squad that will expect to be in Gdansk come final time, even if the group stages may be taken as a chance to rotate and blood some of the club’s promising youngsters.

Tottenham

Odds – 8/1

Manager – Jose Mourinho

Captain – Hugo Lloris

Best previous result – Two-time winners (1972 & 1984)

Last year – Lost in Champions League Round of 16 to RB Leipzig

Group J – LASK Linz, Ludogorets & Royal Antwerp

Jose Mourinho loves a European competition, whether it’s the Champions League or the Europa League. One look at how the Tottenham manager celebrated clinching seventh spot told you just what it meant to him and his squad.

He was probably less pleased when Arsenal won the FA Cup, meaning Tottenham had to trudge through three qualifying rounds to seal their spot in the group stages. But as top seeds in a soft-looking Group J - featuring Antwerp, LASK Linz and Ludogorets - Mourinho could use the group stage as a chance for rotation.

Then it’ll be strictly business for the man who prides himself on winning silverware above all else. With Spurs fresh from a 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United, the north Londoners are firing on all cylinders and you wouldn’t bet against Mourinho adding to his 2017 triumph with the Red Devils.

AC Milan

Odds – 12/1

Manager – Stefano Pioli

Captain – Alessio Romagnoli

Best previous result – 2x Semi-Finalists (1972 & 2002)

Last year – Excluded due to Financial Fair Play issues

Group H – Celtic, Lille & Sparta Prague

As seven-times winners of the European Cup, AC Milan boast by far the most European pedigree of anyone in the 2020/21 competition. Yet after their exclusion from last season’s edition due to Financial Fair Play breaches, the fallen giants will be relieved to be here.

The path has already been onerous. Milan played three qualifying rounds to reach the group stages which they did so by the skin of their teeth.

The Rossoneri defeated Shamrock Rovers and Bodo/Glimt in the first and second qualifying rounds before facing Rio Ave in Portugal where a 122nd-minute Hakan Calhanoglu penalty sent the tie to a shootout. Twenty-four penalties later and Milan’s Group H fate was finally sealed.

It’s not an easy draw though with Celtic, Lille and Sparta Prague awaiting Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. But now settling as a squad after years of flux, Milan will expect to go deep in this season’s competition.

AC MIlan have made it back to Europe the hard way via three qualifying rounds
AC MIlan have made it back to Europe the hard way via three qualifying rounds

Napoli

Odds – 14/1

Manager – Gennaro Gattuso

Captain – Lorenzo Insigne

Best previous result – Winners (1989)

Last season – Lost in Champions League Round of 16 to Barcelona

Group F – AZ Alkmaar, Real Sociedad, Rijeka

It wasn’t just Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrow that was raised when the former AC Milan coach was bombed out of Naples after a clash with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis and replaced by one of his former players – Gennaro Gattuso.

Yet a hothead in his playing day, Gattuso – himself a former Milan coach too – has acquitted himself with quiet efficiency at the Stadio San Paolo. Napoli won the Coppa Italia – hence qualification for the Europa League – and have made a strong start in Serie A.

Despite the sale of Allan, who followed Ancelotti to Everton, the Italians managed to keep hold of prized centre back Kalidou Koulibaly and the arrival of Victor Osimhen to join the lethal Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik in attack means the Neapolitans will be fearsome going forward.

Unlucky to be undone by Barcelona in the Champions League last season, Napoli have the talent to strut their stuff in the Europa League this campaign.

Villarreal

Odds – 16/1

Manager – Unai Emery

Captain – Mario Gaspar

Best previous result – Three-time semi-finalists (2006, 2011 & 2016)

Last season – DNQ

Group I – Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Qarabag, Sivasspor

Fifth favourites for a side who finished fifth in La Liga might seem a bit strong, but Villarreal now have the Europa League wizard Unai Emery at the helm.

The Yellow Submarines capitalised on Emery’s former side Valencia's financial issues this summer to take Francis Coquelin and skipper Dani Parejo an hour north, as replacements for the departing Santi Cazorla.

The midfielders bolster the spine of a squad already packed with seasoned performers, from Mario Gaspar to Vicente Iborra, Gerard Moreno, Paco Alcacer and Carlos Bacca. It means Emery has a host of dangerous attacking options at his disposal.

As customary with the former Arsenal boss, Villarreal will play a sensible, compact style which will make them hard to beat and may see them go deep into the knockout stages.

Dani Parejo swapped Valencia for Villarreal this summer
Dani Parejo swapped Valencia for Villarreal this summer

Bayer Leverkusen

Odds – 20/1

Manager – Peter Bosz

Captain – Charles Aranguiz

Best previous result – Winners (1988)

Last season – Lost in Quarter-Finals to Inter Milan

Group C – Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Nice, Slavia Prague

Bayer Leverkusen featured in both European competitions last season. After finishing third in a tough Champions League group behind Juventus and Atletico Madrid, Leverkusen beat Rangers in the Round of 32 before crashing out to eventual finalists Inter.

This season Bayer have been significantly weakened by the departure of prized asset Kai Havertz to Chelsea and forward Kevin Volland to Monaco – the club’s two top goalscorers last campaign. Replacement Patrik Schick, who has yet to prove himself as a regular scorer, arrives with a lot of pressure on his shoulders.

Coach Peter Bosz plays an exciting, care-free style of football. It makes Leverkusen great to watch but liable to leak goals. Expect the Germans to progress from an exotic Group C but come up short against one of the big boys later on.

Leicester City

Odds - 20/1

Manager – Brendan Rodgers

Captain – Wes Morgan

Best previous result – First round (1998 & 2001)

Last season – DNQ

Group G – AEK Athens, Braga, Zoya Luhansk

Europa League qualification would not have been one of Leicester’s ambitions midway through last season when they briefly threatened to challenge Liverpool for the Premier League title.

Yet they fell away badly after Project Restart and meekly sacrificed a top-four spot in a final-day defeat to Manchester United. Now The Foxes must pick themselves up for their first appearance in Europe’s secondary competition in 19 years.

Brendan Rodgers lost Ben Chilwell to Chelsea this summer but in Timothy Castagne, a player with Champions League experience, looks to have purchased a ready-made replacement.

Last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner Jamie Vardy has started the season on fire and the likes of Youri Tielemans, Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu and James Maddison are a class above most of what the Europa League has to offer. The only question is how much Leicester’s stars will feature as Rodgers looks to balance his squad across the Premier League and FA Cup too.

Roma

Odds – 20/1

Manager – Paulo Fonseca

Captain – Edin Dzeko

Best previous result – Finalists (1991)

Last season – Lost in Round of 16 to Sevilla

Group A – CFR Cluj, CSKA Sofia, Young Boys

A slightly below-par 2019/20 saw Roma finish fifth in Serie A, eight points behind Eternal Derby rivals Lazio in fourth, and crash out of the Europa League in the last 16 to eventual winners Sevilla.

Paulo Fonseca will be hopeful of making further inroads this time around after holding onto top scorer Edin Dzeko and signing Chris Smalling, Pedro and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on permanent deals from Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal respectively.

The Giallorossi possess a host of exciting talent – from Nicolo Zaniolo to Amadou Diawara – but are perhaps a little light in terms of squad depth.

Roma will hope to negotiate a competitive group of CSKA Sofia, CRF Cluj and Young Boys but Fonseca may struggle to balance his European ambitions with the battle for top four in Italy come the business end of the competition.

Real Sociedad

Odds – 25/1

Manager – Imanol Alguacil

Captain – Asier Illarramendi

Best previous result – Quarter-finals (1989)

Last season – DNQ

Group F – AZ Alkmaar, Napoli, Rijeka

Real Sociedad secured their best finish in three seasons and qualified for the Europa League as La Liga’s sixth-placed team last season under former player Imanol Alguacil.

It’s fair to say Alguacil earned his chance. The Basque coach is two years into his tenure at the club after two spells as B Team coach, one as an assistant and one in charge of the youth set up.

With the lowest average age of any squad in Spain, Alguacil has built a side brimming with potential. Forward Mikel Oyarzabal remains the star man having come through the youth system and earned international honours with Spain, the 23-year-old embodies what Sociedad are all about.

But with Premier League icon David Silva in behind and former Arsenal full back Nacho Monreal at left back, Sociedad possess some serious experience too. The arrival of Silva in particular will have fans hoping for an extended run in the Europa League.

Benfica

Odds – 33/1

Manager – Jorge Jesus

Captain – Jardel

Best previous result – Three-time finalists (1983, 2013 & 2014)

Last season – Lost in Round of 32 to Shakhtar Donetsk

Group D – Lech Poznan, Rangers, Standard Liege

Benfica will hardly have welcomed their entry into this season’s Europa League. The Portuguese giants splashed out £90m on new arrivals in the summer and manager Jorge Jesus made no secret of his ambitions to make an impact on the Champions League.

But the dream came crashing down with defeat to Greek side PAOK in the qualifiers - a side whose squad cost a seventh of Benfica’s.

Jesus is a totemic figure in Portuguese football having coached for more than 30 years. He led Benfica previously, before departing for rivals Sporting CP, and recently returned after claiming the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in Brazil.

Yet it will be one of the toughest jobs in his storied career to reignite their season after such a disappointing start, especially with some believing the club is jinxed.

Benfica have lost in no fewer than eight European finals since claiming back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962. It’s up to Jesus to work miracles and overcome the curse.