Tuesday 20 October, 5.55pm
The draw has been made for the last 32 of the Europa League and Kevin Hatchard's taken a look at the leading contenders to win the tournament...
"Mourinho has a strong squad, and has been able to balance the demands of the Premier League and Europa League. Make no mistake, he wants to win this competition, and Spurs got a very kind draw in the last 32."
Tottenham are clear market leaders in the Europa League Winner market, and it's not hard to see why. Jose Mourinho has a deep squad, and has used those resources effectively. His team won their group, with an abject 1-0 defeat at Belgian side Antwerp their only real setback. Mourinho has a history of taking this competition seriously - his Porto side overcame Martin O'Neill's Celtic in the 2003 UEFA Cup final, and he won the tournament again with Manchester United 14 years later.
Mourinho knows he was brought into Tottenham to deliver trophies, and not only is the Europa League a major European trophy that the Spurs boss respects, but it is also a serviceable route to Champions League qualification. Yes, Spurs are the current Premier League leaders, but there is only a three-point gap between them and fifth-placed Chelsea. The scrap for the top four will be as fierce as ever.
I suspect Tottenham's price has been further shaved by a kind draw. Round-of-32 opponents Wolfsberger have reached the knockout phase of a European tournament for the first time, and while they are worthy of respect, they really shouldn't trouble Tottenham if the North London giants play anywhere near their potential.
If Tottenham are seriously involved in the title race in March, perhaps the Europa League will take a back seat, but if not, Mourinho's men are worthy favourites.
After picking up a tricky draw against Real Sociedad, Manchester United are a significantly bigger price than Tottenham, but if they both make it through to the last 16, the gap between the favourites and the second favourites may well shorten considerably. United made it through to the semi-finals of last season's UEL, and there's no reason why they shouldn't have another deep run.
The Red Devils were doubtless wounded and slightly embarrassed by their careless exit from the Champions League - having won in Paris and pulverised RB Leipzig 5-0, they then went on to lose three of the next four games. This tournament offers under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a second shot at European glory, and an opportunity to qualify for next term's UCL.
It's worth remembering how United powered through the knockout phase last season, as they crushed Club Brugge and LASK Linz, before edging out a stubborn Copenhagen in the quarter-final. They really should have won their semi-final against Sevilla, but they blew a host of chances.
Real Sociedad are a very talented team, and are top of La Liga. Former Manchester City star David Silva is pulling the strings, and players like Mikel Oyarzabal and Portu stretch the pitch. That said, the Basque outfit have been uninspiring in this competition, and they only scraped through thanks to a slip-up from AZ on Matchday Six.
I think United will find a way past La Real, so if you're going to back them to win the tournament, now's the time to do it.
Arsenal took full advantage of a weak group, winning all six games against Molde, Dundalk and Rapid Vienna. The performances from a clutch of promising youngsters like Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson and Folarin Balogun have left plenty of Gunners fans wondering why more of these starlets aren't being funnelled into the Premier League side.
Things will start to get tougher now though, and being drawn to face Benfica in the last 32 was far from ideal. The Portuguese giants haven't hit top gear at all in the UEL or the league, but they have an expensively assembled squad and a very experienced and wily coach in Jorge Jesus.
Given that tough draw, and the general negativity surrounding the club at the moment, I can't get involved with backing Arsenal at this stage.
2020 has been an extraordinary year for Milan. Coach Stefano Pioli came in as a safe pair of hands, but he has wildly exceeded expectations. In a season where Juventus, Inter and Napoli have all shown a bit of frailty from time to time, the Scudetto is genuinely up for grabs.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a massively positive impact on the club since his return. For all the bluster and the feigned egomania, the 39-year-old Swede is actually a terrific leader, and a great example for the younger players. He has banged in 10 league goals in just six appearances.
Milan got a tricky draw against Crvena Zvezda, and it may be a good test of how seriously the Rossoneri are going to take this tournament. If they are still in the title mix, they may keep their best players out of the firing line, especially Ibrahimovic. Although the Italians won four of their six group-stage matches, they only took a point from their two games against Lille, so it will be fascinating to see what happens against strong teams in the knockout rounds.
I've been really impressed by Milan, but I'm just not sure how seriously they'll be able to take this competition if they want to win Serie A.
For the second season running, Leicester City have made a superb start to the campaign. They ran out of steam last term, slipping out of the top four of the Premier League on the final day of the campaign. That desperate disappointment wasn't enough to derail them at the start of this season, and they are just a point off top spot in the PL, and through to the last 32 of the UEL as group winners.
The Foxes hammered an experienced Braga side 4-0 at the King Power, and recovered from a deficit three times in a 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture. They won all three of their home games, keeping three clean sheets in the process.
Slavia Prague are unlikely to be able to defeat Brendan Rodgers' side over two legs. The Czech champions have lost key players Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal to West Ham, and although they did well against a struggling Nice side, they got shredded 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday Six.
Leicester have a good coach, a strong squad and a kind draw. 13.50 is quite a nice price.
For the second season running, Ajax have fallen short in their bid to reach the knockout phase of the Champions League, having had their fate in their own hands going into Matchday Six. They were surprisingly toothless and unhurried in their 1-0 defeat to Atalanta, and one wonders whether they've made one sale too many.
Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech have all moved on, and although there are still some fabulous young players at the club (midfielder Ryan Gravenberch could be the next big star) it's hard to see Ajax going all the way.
In fact, Ajax may find it tough to get past the first knockout round. They have been drawn to face Ligue 1 leaders Lille, who hammered Milan 3-0 at San Siro. If anything, I'd be more drawn to supporting Lille as a back-to-lay at a hefty 48.047/1.
At time of writing, Bayer Leverkusen are top of the Bundesliga table for the first time in six years. They haven't lost any of their first 11 games in the league, and they won their Europa League group. Coach Peter Bosz has found a previously elusive consistency, and he is trying to instil a mindset in his players that they can compete for trophies. He's done all this despite the loss of star player Kai Havertz to Chelsea.
Jamaican winger Leon Bailey is finally fulfilling his potential, Moussa Diaby has lightning speed on the other flank, and there's a good battle between Patrik Schick and Lucas Alario for the central striking role. Edmond Tapsoba is an outstanding young defender, and 17-year-old attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz is getting better all the time.
Leverkusen are likely to strengthen the right-back position in January, and if they do, they have strength in depth in pretty much all positions. Swiss champions Young Boys are no pushovers, but I expect Bayer to find a way past them over two legs, and I think they can go far in this competition.
Rangers 36.035/1 - Steven Gerrard has built up a terrific record at this level, and is racking up the scalps. Antwerp are beatable in the last 32, especially if Rangers play as well as they did against Benfica in both group games.
Shakhtar Donetsk 28.027/1 - The Ukrainian champions reached the semi-finals last season, and they have twice beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League this season. They should overpower Maccabi Tel Aviv in the last 32, and they have a nice mix of dynamic youngsters and experienced performers like Junior Moraes, Taison and Marlos.
Salzburg 34.033/1 - The Austrian champions gave Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid scares in the Champions League, but ultimately their gung-ho approach won plaudits but not enough points. Hungarian midfield star Dominik Szoboszlai could leave in January, and that would be a hefty blow, and being paired with Unai Emery's Villarreal was a nightmare draw.
Tuesday 20 October, 5.55pm