Europa League Futures: Look to Juventus, Roma To Make Title Pushes

The UEFA Europa League can be difficult to handicap in the knockout round.

For starters, the eight group winners play two fewer games in the competition. They automatically advanced to the round of 16, while the second-place finishers and third-place group finishers from the UEFA Champions League face off in the knockout round playoffs.

Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax are among the teams that dropped into the Europa League. Barcelona was listed as the favorite ahead of Manchester United and Arsenal.

Barca, United and Arsenal could all win the tournament, but their futures odds are too low to justify betting at this point in the competition, so I took a different approach to my futures picks.

There are four teams listed at +1000 or higher that I believe can make a run to the final, starting with a team desperate to win to get back into the Champions League.

Juventus (+1200)

The Europa League is Juventus' best path to getting back to the Champions League next season.

The Bianconeri were hit with a 15-point penalty in Serie A that dropped them into the middle of the table. They are 12 points off the Champions League qualification spots in the Italian top flight.

Juve comes into the Europa League knockout round in tremendous form, as it produced three consecutive clean sheets.

The Old Lady of Italian football should breeze past Nantes in the playoff round. Nantes is 13th in Ligue 1 and earned six of its group-stage points against Olympiacos. Nantes was outscored 10-2 in the other four matches.

Juve has plenty of experience throughout its squad, and I think there will be extra motivation to get back into Europe's top competition after losing out on its opportunity to do so through the domestic league.

Real Sociedad (+1400)

I am required by law to pick at least one Spanish team to win the Europa League.

Spanish teams have won the Europa League eight times since 2010, and the country has three of the last five wins in the competition.

I think Sociedad is the better option than Real Betis. Both teams had strong defensive records on their way to group stage victories, but Sociedad has the better expected goals against in La Liga.

I'm aligning myself with Sociedad because of its better defense, but do not sleep on the experience that David Silva could provide on and off the field dealing with the knockout round pressure.

Of course, I could just say Barca will be the next Spanish winner, but there is no guarantee it gets past United in the playoff round.

Roma (+1800)

Roma is the reigning champion of the UEFA Conference League.

Sure, there is a step up in competition from the third-tier European club competition, but it means Roma is battle-tested in elimination matches.

Roma possesses a strong attack, led by Tammy Abraham and Paolo Dybala, who have 18 goals between them in all competitions.

The experience of the Romans should be enough to get them past a young RB Salzburg team in the playoff round, and that should help kickstart their run throughout the knockout round.

Sporting Lisbon (+3500)

Sporting Lisbon has the easiest playoff round matchup on paper against Midtyjlland.

The Portuguese side should cruise into the round of 16, and it has more motivation to focus on the Europa League since it sits 15 points back of Benfica in the Portuguese league table.

Sporting beat Eintracht Frankfurt and Tottenham in the Champions League group stage. It failed to advance in that competition because of red cards in both games against Marseille.

At full strength, Sporting can be one of the toughest sides to beat in the knockout round, and I think it can be a sneaky dark horse.

Feyenoord (+5000)

Feyenoord is experiencing a dream season on top of the Dutch Eredivisie with a two-point edge on AZ Alkmaar at the moment.

Feyenoord proved it could go head-to-head with a tough European team, when it beat Lazio 1-0 on the final group stage matchday to secure first place.

The Dutch side does not have to play until the round of 16 and it will be a tough team to beat, even if it goes up against the likes of Barca and United.

I think Feyenoord has value on the futures board because of its place in the draw and overall form this season.

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