Ahead of the return of the Europa League on Wednesday, Alex Keble takes a look at the outright betting, suggesting Inter Milan should be able to beat Man Utd to the title but to keep Wolves onside...
"The most likely outcome is a Man Utd v Inter Milan last two, and one assumes Conte can out-think Solskjaer in the pressurised environment of a major final."
The Europa League returns at the last-16 stage this Wednesday, August 5, as part of UEFA's three-week summer festival of football.
As with the Champions League matches also kicking off this week, the remainder of this season's Europa League will be one-legged knock-out ties, turning Europe's top two competitions into World Cups.
It's exciting, but a little messy at first. The Europa League was suspended not just mid-round but mid-mid-round, with six of the eight last-16 ties half-way through their two legs and the other two - Sevilla versus Roma and Inter Milan versus Getafe - yet to play at all. These two games have been converted into one-legged affairs and will be played on neutral grounds in Germany.
Following those on Wednesday and Thursday, the other six ties are played in the stadiums as originally scheduled, before the real fun begins: the sudden-death quarter-finals start on August 10.
Here's a look at the top five favourites to lift this season's Europa League trophy and gain access to next year's Champions League:
It is no surprise that the third-richest club in the world are favourites to win the Europa League, particularly given how strong their league form as been since the January acquisition of Bruno Fernandes. United's 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final was their only loss in their last 22 outings, reflecting their renewed confidence with Fernandes and Paul Pogba creating together in central midfield.
Just as important has been the upturn in form from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, whose partnership on the left is terrorising opposition defences. Coupled with a solid back four (only occasionally undermined by David de Gea), United look like a solid knock-out tournament side.
What's more, the draw seriously favours them. United are 5-0 up against LASK, assuring safe passage to the quarter-finals to face either FC Copenhagen or Istanbul Basaksehir, before likely playing Wolves, Sevilla or Roma in the semis. Solskjaer will be delighted to have avoided the next two favourites, Inter and Bayer Leverkusen, who are both in the other half of the draw.
Antonio Conte's side ultimately proved disappointing in Serie A this season despite finishing just one point behind Juventus. In reality, they were never really in the race, and with Juve dropping points in 12 games in 2019/20 Conte will be ruing a huge opportunity missed. The former Chelsea manager will have high hopes, however, for the Europa League.
Inter didn't concede a single goal in their last four league games of the campaign and have lost just once in 15 matches since the restart. Even more impressively, they confidently dispatched of Napoli and Atalanta in their last two, while Alexis Sanchez and Christian Eriksen are both gradually finding their feet.
Conte's ruthlessly organised 3-4-1-2 formation is all about control and patience, which is precisely what is needed in one-legged knock-out games. They should get past Getafe this week, leaving Leverkusen in the quarter-final as their last major obstacle before the final - and the German outfit probably won't be at their best.
The most likely outcome is a Man Utd v Inter Milan last two, and one assumes Conte can out-think Solskjaer in the pressurised environment of a major final. Back Inter to win the Europa League at 9/2.
Germany are unfortunate to have been punished for getting the Bundesliga back underway before other clubs in Europe, with Bayer Leverkusen set to play Rangers after a four-week break since their domestic campaign ended. Peter Bosz's side may well be too rusty to last the distance in the Europa League.
Worse still Leverkusen won just four of their final nine games of the season, falling out of the Champions League spots in the process, and Kai Havertz's on-going transfer saga could prove disruptive. He is expected to play in the second leg at Rangers, where Leverkusen hold a 3-1 advantage, but Chelsea may wrap up a deal before the Europa League campaign is over.
All of which points to Leverkusen losing at the hands of Inter in the quarter-finals.
Sevilla finished ten points clear in the Champions League spots in La Liga after winning five of their last six matches and, somewhat incredibly, going undefeated in their final 17 games in all competitions. They are difficult to break down, playing in a dominant possession style that leaves few gaps on the counter-attack.
That bodes well for knock-out football, which usually rewards the most organised and risk-averse teams. Then again, Sevilla badly lack a goalscorer, netting just 15 times in their last 11 games. Lucas Ocampos, with 14 goals, is the only player in the squad to hit double figures.
But the main reason we aren't backing Sevilla to win the Europa League is because they have drawn the short straw. Their most likely route to lifting the trophy is AS Roma, Wolves, Man Utd, Inter Milan. Winning those four games in a row, and in the space of 15 days, is a tall order.
It isn't much easier for Nuno Esperito Santo's Wolves, although they are our outsider pick to win their first ever piece of European silverware. This is a relentless team who remained consistently energetic despite a ludicrously packed schedule, and for that reason alone they are well-placed to win the 15-day endurance contest.
Olympiacos, with whom they drew 1-1 in the first leg of their last-16 game, should not be too much of a problem and Wolves are clearly a better team than Roma or Sevilla, while Nuno would fancy his chances against Man Utd in the semi-final, given the sides drew 0-0 at Molineaux in February. Certainly at 15/2 it is worth a small wager.