For the first time this century, UEFA have launched a third continental cup competition: the UEFA Europa Conference League. The aim of the competition is to give clubs from smaller European nations the chance to shine on the big stage and enjoy a stronger chance of winning silverware. The major footballing nations do still compete, although each of the top league’s only get one spot in the competition. The inaugural edition features a wide range of participants including several big continental clubs, some exciting dark hoses as well as teams experiencing continental football for the first time. So just who are the top contenders in the first ever UEFA Europa Conference League?
It’s mind-boggling to think that Spurs have failed to win any sort of trophy since their English League Cup triumph in 2009. Well, this season proposes their best chance to end that drought in the UEFA Europa Conference League. Few teams match Spurs for overall quality and depth, especially when the going gets tough later in the season.
With the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Hugo Lloris all available should they be needed, they have enough quality to shut out opponents and bag a few goals. If Spurs can negotiate a slighty tricky group involving the likes of Rennes and Vitesse Arnhem, there is no reason why the London side can’t go all the way and lift the trophy at May’s final in Albania.
Roma can always be found fighting for honours in European football, even if they have failed to win a continental trophy in 60 years. However, the Giallorossi are now managed by Jose Mourinho who is no stranger to winning big trophies.
Mourinho will not be short of quality at his disposal with Lorenzo Pellegrini determined to add to the silverware he enjoyed with Italy in Euro 2020 back in July. Add in to the mix a squad that features star names such as Henrikh Mkhitryan, Jordan Veretout and Tammy Abraham, there is plenty of firepower available to dismantle teams. In a group where Roma should easily see off their opposition, the Italian giants will be keen to start the Mourinho era with a bang.
It has been an impressive 12 months for Slavia Prague in continental football. The Czech side proved their mettle reaching the last eight of the Europa League last season upsetting bigger opposition such as Rangers and Leicester City.
The new UEFA Europa Conference League could give Slavia Prague the chance to go even further this season and a challenging group draw featuring the likes of Feyenoord and Union Berlin will get them battle-ready almost immediately. Having retained key personal like pacey winger Peter Olayinka and midfield ace Nicolae Stanciu, don’t be surprised to see Slavia Prague battling for silverware as they fight for their first ever European trophy.
Very few teams have outperformed themselves in Europe as often as FC Basel has. The Swiss side have often pushed the elite of European to the brink in both the Champions League and Europa League in recent years. Now finding themselves as a big fish in a small pond, Basel have a great chance to pick up some silverware.
Having been given a kind draw featuring sides such as Qarabag of Azerbaijan and Omonia Nicosia of Cyprus, many would expect Basel to advance to the latter stages of the competiton. With the spine of their squad experienced in facing the best that Europe has to offer, there is more than enough quality for the Swiss giants to compete for silverware.
Rennes are enjoying a strong resurgence in all forms of competition and their debut in the Chanmpions League last season proved that they can mix it with the best. This time, the French side have found themselves in the UEFA Europa Conference League and could view this as a great opportunity to win a major honour.
They will have to work for it though as they have drawn a tough group involving both Tottenham and Vitesse Arnhem. The loss of star mindfielder Edouard Camavinga may have hurt morale in the team but the presence of experienced players such as Gaetan Laborde should help the side from Brittany shine and progress into the last few rounds of the competition.
Back in the days of Yugoslavia, Partizan Belgrade were often competing for top honours in European football. Whilst they heyday may have passed, the Serbian giants could pull off some big surprises in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Partizan are full of experienced players who have shone in European top leagues. The likes of Lazar Markovic and Danilo Pantic are quality players who can outfox and dismantle sides with ease. As Partizan find themselves with smaller opposition such as Estonian side Flora Tallinn and Cyprus’ Anorthosis Famagusta, the Serbian runners-up only need to beat Belgian side Gent to win their group. From there, anything is possible for a side keen to relive the success of bygone eras.
Lincoln Red Imps
If anyone wanted to back a real outsider, then look no further than Gibraltar’s own Lincoln Red Imps. Being realistic, the Gibraltan side shouldn’t have much of a chance given their small stature and lack of star power. However, this is a side that is capable of staging an upset when they want to.
It was only two seasons ago that this very side knocked Scottish giants Celtic out of Champions League qualifying beating them both home and away in a 4-0 aggregate victory. If they can show similar grit and determination to beat other established sides such as FC Copenhagen and PAOK Thessalonika as well as ride their luck a little, then anything is possible for The Red Imps. Even a mind-blowing European competition trophy.
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