Europa League 2012: Talented Teams Bound to Finish at the Top of Their Group

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2012

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 28: Jimmy Braind #19 of Olympique Lyonnais celebrates a second half goal with team-mate Aly Cissokho #10 against the Montpellier HSC during the Tours de Champions at Red Bull Arena on July 28, 2012 in Harrison, New Jersey. Game ended in a 2-2 tie. Olympique Lyonnais won 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The UEFA Champions League isn't the only must-watch soccer going on right now. The Europa League offers scintillating action as well, especially as group action is coming to a close for some teams.

Because certain squads have played so well through three games, they will have a chance to close things out in their next match. That doesn't guarantee a win, but these talented teams should be heavily favored to take first place in their respective groups.

Being in the UCL is the ultimate goal, but playing in the Europa League is nothing to be ashamed of, as it's a place to turn your club around.

Let's take a look a three teams that are doing just that.


Olympique Lyonnais

If Lyon defeats Athletic Club on Thursday, they're in. It's that simple. That makes this a relatively easy pick, but that doesn't take away from this team's ability.

So far, the squad is 3-0. They've scored eight goals in those three games, allowing five in their own net. It's not a perfect squad—that's why they aren't playing in the UCL—but this is still a dangerous side by Europa League standards.

Offensively, Clement Grenier controls the pace. He exhibits great open-field vision, often finding Bafetimbi Gomis at the top of the attack. Gomis has had trouble keeping his shots on target, but he still forces the defense to pay attention when he has the ball at his feet.

Lisandro and Gueida Fofana make them even more dangerous, with each scoring two goals in Europa League competition.

Defensively, this team does struggle at times, but Athletic Club has only scored three goals so far in group play. They won't test this team in the defensive third, and Lyon will advance.


Club Atletico de Madrid

Atletico has allowed one goal so far in three games. Not one goal in each, just one goal overall. With that defense, it's going to be tough to beat this squad.

This team only needs one more win to advance. If they defeat A. Academica de Coimbra in their next match, you can punch their ticket to the knockout stage.

An assortment of skilled players makes this side dangerous. Cristian Rodriguez has proven himself as a capable scorer, and Raul Garcia has contributed as well. Diego Costa and Emre Belozoglu have taken on the roles of all-around playmakers, both scoring and creating offense for others.

On top of that, the defense is extremely steady. They play tight on the back side, forcing opponents to attack from the perimeter. The results have been staggering so far, and it's hard to see that ending in their next match.

Don't sleep on this team. It's balanced group that's capable of hurting opponents in many ways.


Newcastle is a tough team to judge. With just four goals in three games, they're relying on a stellar defense to get things done so far.

No one on this team has scored more than one goal so far. If they lose to Club Brugge KV in their next match, they will only lead Group D by one point—but that doesn't mean they aren't the best team in the group.

It takes a lot to pitch three straight clean sheets. Despite struggling on offense, their focused defense provides a challenge for any team that even wants to think about scoring.

Aside from Gabriel Obertan, the offense has had their difficulties. However, you never know when they will find their stroke again. With the defense's support, they will have plenty of time to make that happen.

This side is still struggling to gain a major advantage—and they're far from exciting to watch—but fundamental football can take you a long way in this tournament.