The Europa League group stage kicks off on Thursday, and with some big name clubs taking part in this season’s tournament, it’s time to preview the groups. In part two, we’ll look at Group G through L.
Group G: Ajax (Netherlands), Standard Liege (Belgium), Celta Vigo (Spain), Panathinaikos, (Greece).
Ajax led the Eredivisie pretty much all last season, but fell on the final day of the season to end up second behind PSV Eindhoven. After falling to Rostov in the Champions League qualifying playoffs, they were awarded a spot in the Europa League group stage. Standard Liege won their spot in the tournament by winning the Belgian Cup last season, defeating Club Brugge 2-1 in the final.
After finishing sixth in La Liga last season, Celta Vigo earned a direct spot to the group stage. The Spaniards have struggled to start the new season, suffering three straight losses, putting them second from the bottom in the table. Panathinaikos finished runners-up to standouts Olympiacos in the Greek Super League last season, earning them a spot in the third round of the Europa League qualifiers. They defeated Swedish side AIK 3-0 on aggregate before taking a 4-1 win on aggregate against Brondby from Denmark in the qualification playoffs.
Group H: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Braga (Portugal), Gent (Belgium), Konyaspor (Turkey).
Shakhtar Donetsk failed to reach the Champions League, falling to Young Boys in the third round. They went up against Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir in the Europa League qualification playoffs 4-1 on aggregate. Braga earned an automatic place in the group stage after finishing fourth in the Portuguese Primeira Liga last season. They’ve started off the new campaign with three wins and one draw, which sees them sitting in second place.
Gent entered into the third round of qualifiers after finishing third in the Belgian Pro League last season. They defeated Viitorul Constanta 5-0 on aggregate and Shkendija 6-1 on aggregate to reach the group stage. Konyaspor are set to make their first appearance in Europe after finishing third in the Turkish Super Lig last season, earning them an automatic spot in the group stage.
Group I: Schalke 04 (Germany), Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), Krasnodar (Russia), Nice (France).
Schalke picked up an automatic place in the group stage after finishing fifth in the Bundesliga last season. The team has suffered two straight losses to open up league play, falling to Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich. Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg made it to the Champions League qualification playoffs, before falling 3-2 on aggregate to Dinamo Zagreb, putting them in the Europa League group stage.
Krasnodar, who finished fourth in the Russian Premier League last season, defeated Birkirkara FC and Partizani Tirana to reach the group stage. Nice earned a direct spot into the group stage after finishing fourth in Ligue 1 last season. They’ve started off the new season with three wins and one draw. New signing Mario Balotelli scored a brace in his debut in the 3-2 win over Marseille over the weekend.
Group J: Fiorentina (Italy), PAOK (Greece), Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic), Qarabag (Azerbaijan).
Finishing fifth in Serie A last season, Fiorentina earned a direct spot into the group stage. The Florentinian side has started the new season by picking up a win and a loss. PAOK fell to Ajax in the third round of the Champions League qualifiers, pitting them against Dinamo Tbilisi in the Europa League qualification playoffs. They took a 5-0 win on aggregate over the Georgians to reach the group stage.
Slovan Liberec finished third in the Czech First League last season, putting them in the third round of qualifications. Defeating Admira Wacker and AEK Larnaca earned them a spot in the group stage. Azerbaijani champions Qarabag failed to reach the Champions League, falling to Viktoria Plzen in the third round of qualifiers. They took on Swedish side IFK Göteborg in the Europa League qualification playoffs, taking a 3-1 win on aggregate to get into the group stage.
Group K: Internazionale (Italy), Sparta Prague (Czech Republic), Southampton (England), Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Israel).
Inter earned an automatic spot in the group stage after finishing fourth in Serie A last season. They were just three points behind Roma in third, which would have put them in the Champions League qualifiers. Sparta Prague finished in second place in the Czech First League last season. After falling to Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League qualifiers, they defeated Sonderjyske in the qualification playoffs to reach the Europa League group stage.
Southampton took an impressive sixth-place finish in the Premier League last season under the leadership of manager Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman left the club to join Everton, and new manager Claude Puel has seen his side get off to a rough start, picking up two draws and two losses in the opening four games. Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva fell 5-4 to Celtic in the Champions League qualification playoffs, putting them in the Europa League group stage.
Group L: Villarreal (Spain), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), FC Zurich (Switzerland), Osmanlispor (Turkey).
Villarreal finished fourth in La Liga last season, putting them in the Champions League qualification playoffs. They were pitted against French side AS Monaco, but fell 3-1 on aggregate, which saw them go into the Europa League group stage. Steaua Bucharest also fell in the Champions League qualification playoffs, losing 6-0 on aggregate to Manchester City.
Although FC Zurich saw themselves getting relegated from the Swiss Super League last season, they earned a spot in the Europa League group stage by winning the Swiss Cup. Osmanlispor are set to make their first appearance in the Europa League after beating Zimbru Chisinau, Nomme Kalju and Midtjylland to reach the group stage.