The opening knockout round of the Europa League provided no shortage of surprises, from Tottenham’s shocking exit to Gladbach’s improbable comeback from down 3-0. Such upsets are a unique part of the Europa League. Unlike the Champions League, the Europa League sees giants like Manchester United accompanied by smaller sides like Apoel FC and FK Krasnodar. At this point, everyone seems to really start shifting away from squad rotations to their full first team. So, with only 16 teams remaining, we saw this as a fitting time to make our picks for who we think will take home the silverware.
Kieran: O. Lyonnais
I think Lyon will win the Europa League in May, especially after rolling over AZ Alkmaar if the Netherlands 11-2 on aggregate in the round of 32. Lyon is in it to win it. They have a very talented and young squad, which in my opinion is the best in the competition. They have a world class striker, good wide support, a midfield mixed with youth and experience, and the best back-line the Europa League has to offer.
Along with the Portuguese shot-stopper Diego Lopes in the defense, Lyon has Rafael, a Premier League winner with Manchester United. He offers crossing and experience on the right side and seems to be over his injury epidemic. Mauro Yanga-Mbiwa offers pace, positioning, and tough tackling in the center. The young Mouctar Diakhaby and Emmanuel Mammana aren’t bad either. And Christophe Jallet offers experience to the youngsters in defense when he plays alongside them at full-back.
The Midfield of Lyon is what I think will win them the cup. Maxine Gonalons is one of the best Defensive-midfielders France had to offer, and Corentin Tolisso and Jordan Ferri may be young but boy can they play football. They can pass and score goals from midfield. Ferri is more of a presence in midfield than a scorer, but the 22-year-old Tolisso has 10 goals and 4 assists this season, which is very impressive.
Lyon simply has a world class attack. Nabil Fekir may be small at 5 ft 8 inches (173cm) but from the wing this season he has 10 goals and 5 assists in all competitions this season, which is very impressive for a winger. The addition of Memphis Depay is a big boost for Lyon. With 1 goal and 1 assist in 3 games for Lyon already, Depay could become an entirely different player in Lyon. The biggest reason I think Lyon will win the Europa League is Alexandre Lacazette. After a few years in France, Lacazette looks like he’ll be leaving Lyon in the summer and what better way to repay the club than the Europa League. Along with that, Lacazette has already racked up 26 goals this season and it’s only February. His goals can surely propel Lyon to the trophy.
Nik: AS Roma
After Roma glided past Villareal (4-1) to reach the last 16, they emerged as my favorite to win the cup. The first reason for this is simple: Edin Dzeko. The Bosnianseems to have rejuvenated his career this season, as he leads the Europa League with 8 goals. He benefits greatly from the service of club legend Francesco Totti, who has picked up 5 assists in the competition so far. This attack helped Roma score the 2nd most goals in the group stage.In the midfield, Leandro Paredes is one of the most underrated center midfielders in the world. He is the heart of Roma, which is justified by his 521 pass completions, which leads the competition. Radja Nainggolan is a nightmare for opponents, and his great power has been accompanied by 7 goals and 2 assists in Serie A this season. Mohammed Salah is another versatile player for Roma, who also continues to get his name on the scoresheet (9 goals, 6 assists in Serie A).
With Roma 10 points off the top of the table, a title win seems unlikely for the side, so they would have no reason not to put out their strongest side in the Europa League. They still do have the Coppa Italia, but that does not resume until April, which means they will not have to worry about it in this round at least.
Ben: Manchester United
With their league hopes virtually over, they can focus their attention primarily on European competition. This is why united will win the Europa league this year.
Kevin: FC Schalke
I believe that Schalke will win the Europa League this season. The German side’s mix of experience in the back line with pace and youth up front can guide them to the prestigious trophy.
Ralf Fahrmann is one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga, and the 28 year old seems to get better every year. Benedikt Howedes also offers lots of experience, as he has played several important games for club and country, including a World Cup final. Holger Badstuber, Naldo, and Matija Nastasic are also very good and experienced defenders who can be a challenging unit to break for opposing teams.
Leon Goretzka, Jonathan Geis, and Max Meyer all all midfielders under 23 who can they offer pace and composure in the midfield. While Meyer is an attacking midfielder, Geis and Goretzka are more defensive minded. They have also recently announced the permanent signings of former Spurs man Nabil Bentaleb and and Konoplyanka from Sevilla, who are sure to add to the loads of talent di Matteo’s team has to offer.
Up top, Schalke have Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who are very different yet clinical strikers. Choupo-Moting is a very mobile and speedy striker, compared to Huntelaar who can provide an aerial threat in the box. Regardless of who gets the nod or comes off the bench in their European matches, Schalke’s attack is looking very sharp and looks to provide plenty of goals.