For anyone looking at the Europa League field heading into the Knockout Round Playoffs, it’s obvious what teams are favored to win the competition in 2024. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are the frontrunners at the moment. Not far behind them according to most soccer betting sites are Bayer Leverkusen and AC Milan. However, anyone who follows Europa League knows that things don’t always unfold as expected.
Keep in mind that Liverpool, Leverkusen, and Milan are all chasing domestic titles in their respective countries. Liverpool and Leverkusen are both in first place in the Premier League and Bundesliga, respectively. Meanwhile, AC Milan is in a three-team race in Serie A. In other words, those clubs may not prioritize a Europa League title, opening the door for other teams to claim a European trophy. If Liverpool, Leverkusen, and AC Milan don’t win Europa League in 2024, here are some of the top dark horse candidates who could.
Outside of the three clubs mentioned, Brighton might be the best team in the field. Of course, there is a considerable gap between them and the likes of Liverpool, Leverkusen, and AC Milan. However, the Seagulls have grown into the competition, struggling early but winning a tricky group that also included Marseille and Ajax. With just five goals conceded, Brighton had one of the best defensive records during the Group Stage. Also, while the Seagulls have had a solid season in the Premier League, they aren’t top-4 material, so winning Europa League is their only path to Champions League. That means Brighton could make Europa League a priority, which can’t be said of every team.
On paper, Roma is the type of team that can win Europa League. But there are some questions about them, especially after recently parting ways with manager Jose Mourinho. The Italian side also finished second in its group, forcing a tricky playoff with Feyenoord before the Round of 16, making Roma’s path to the trophy a difficult one. That being said, there are few teams in Europa League that boast attacking talent on the same level as players like Romelu Lukaku and Paulo Dybala. If new manager Daniele De Rossi can get things sorted out quickly, there is no question that Roma is talented enough to make a deep run and win Europa League.
The Hammers got to Europa League by winning Europa Conference League last year and then cruised through the Group Stage to make the Round of 16. They’ve also outperformed the likes of Manchester United, Brighton, Chelsea, and Newcastle in the Premier League this season. Whether West Ham has the depth to keep pushing for a strong finish in the Premier League while making a deep run in Europa League is a fair question to ask. However, David Moyes is an experienced manager who walked that line during the Conference League title run last year, albeit with a 14th-place Premier League finish, so he’ll know what he has to do to win another European trophy this season.
It’s worth noting that a Spanish side has won Europa League eight times in the last 12 years. That includes Villarreal’s win over Manchester United in the 2021 Europa League finals. Even with just nine goals compared to seven conceded, the Spanish side finished atop its group, creating a more manageable path to the final. The caveat is that Villarreal has had a dreadful season in La Liga thanks to a porous defense, putting them nowhere near qualifying for a European spot next season. But as long as the Yellow Submarine can avoid getting sucked into a relegation battle, the club will be able to make Europa League its top priority. Obviously, the team’s defensive issues need to be cleared up. But with attacking players like Gerard Moreno and Alexander Sorloth, Villarreal could become a serious Europa League contender.
Atalanta impressed many during the Europa League Group Stage, setting up the Italian side to make some noise during the Knockout Stage. They are currently the third highest-scoring team in Serie A with four different players contributing at least five goals during the domestic season. That means the Black and Blues are always a threat to score goals without relying too much on one player. That’s a good quality to have with up to seven more Europa League matches on the horizon. The drawback for Atalanta is that the Serie A race is tight. There are currently six teams separated by just three points in the battle for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Europa League could end up being a distraction when they should be focusing on the domestic campaign. On the other hand, making Europa League a priority could be Atalanta’s best chance at qualifying for Champions League next season, making the Italian team one to watch closely.