Europa League: Why Saints are more likely winners than Man United

A cameo from Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn't save Man Utd from defeat at Feyenoord
A cameo from Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn't save Man United from defeat at Feyenoord

No club have ever won the Europa League without prevailing in their opening group-stage encounter...


"Of the seven prior Europa League victors, four were in the competition from the beginning of the campaign rather than elbowing their way in halfway through and every single one of them triumphed on the opening night of the first round proper."

Man United's first ever Europa League group participation got off to a terrible start as they were beaten 1-0 away to Feyenoord, but it didn't alter their perception as competition favourites.

Though their odds have drifted from 5.8 to 7.26/1, they remain a long way clear of the other 47 group-stage combatants in the tournament winner betting, with the expectation being that they will finish above at least two of the Eredivisie leaders, Fenerbahce and Ukraine's Zorya Luhansk in Group A.

However, even if they do manage that, there are still another five rounds to negotiate, four of them with two legs, and eight teams of similar if not superior quality to join in after Christmas.

It is also notable that, since the current format and name was adopted in 2009/10, no club have ever lifted the trophy after a defeat in their maiden group match.

Of the seven victors, four were in the competition from the beginning of the campaign rather than elbowing their way in halfway through and every single one of them triumphed on the opening night of the first round proper.

Porto beat Rapid Vienna 3-0 in 2010/11, Atletico Madrid dismissed Celtic 2-0 in 2011/12, Sevilla won 2-1 in Estoril in 2013/14 and, most intriguingly of all, the Rojiblancos outclassed Man United's conquerors Feyenoord 2-0 on day one two years ago.

Even the three champions that arrived in spring once the difficulty level was cranked up avoided a loss in their debut outing. Sevilla coasted past Molde 3-0 last term, Chelsea delivered 1-0 at Sparta Prague in 2012/13 and inaugural winners Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 at Galatasaray in 2009/10.

Indeed, lowering ambitions and just targeting a final appearance becomes trickier for Jose Mourinho's frontrunners after disappointment at De Kuip. Only one of the four prior runners-up to have engaged in group-stage action suffered a week-one reverse - Dnipro against Inter in 2014/15.

Southampton made a far more palatable first impression in overcoming Sparta Prague 3-0 to instantly occupy top spot in Group K.

Regardless of whether they were in the group phase or arrived for the knockouts, five of the previous seven silverware-recipients got underway with a win to nil, and the Saints are 18.017/1 to become the sixth side to build on such an introduction.

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