The UEFA Europa League is back with the group stages getting underway on 8 September.
Given that the World Cup takes place this winter, the group phase will be wrapped up far earlier than usual, with the last round of games scheduled for 3 November.
All roads lead to the recently-opened Puskás Aréna, the venue for the final on 31 May.
The 67,000 capacity stadium hosted the 2020 UEFA Super Cup as well as four matches at Euro 2022.
140 matches will be played before then, so here’s a group by group preview ahead of the big kick off.
Arsenal, Rennes, Roma, Braga, Man United, Lazio, Freiburg and Red Star Belgrade all to top their groups
Back this accumulator at 514/1!
Group A: Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven, Bodø/Glimt & FC Zürich
Having come so close in recent seasons, will this finally be the year Arsenal go all the way in the Europa League?
The Gunners were hammered 4-1 by Chelsea in the 2019 final in Bakı, also falling at the semi-final stage in 2018 and 2021.
Since first appearing in this competition in 2017, Arsenal have faced few challenges in the group phase, winning 18 of 24 matches and losing just twice, finishing top each time.
With Mikel Arteta’s team currently top of the Premier League with maximum points, they’re well placed to make a deep run once again.
Could Norwegian champions Bodø/Glimt be their biggest challengers?
The Yellow Horde played a total of 20 matches in UEFA competition last season, qualifying for their maiden group stage and getting all the way to the Europa Conference League quarter-finals.
This season, Kjetil Knutsen’s side knocked out KÍ Klaksvík, Linfield and Žalgiris Vilnius, before defeat by GNK Dinamo in the Champions League play-offs.
Nevertheless, remarkably, Bodø/Glimt have won 14 successive European home games, a sequence they’ll be confident of extending.
PSV Eindhoven meantime also fell at the final hurdle of Champions League qualification last month, ousted by Rangers.
The Red and Whites featured in all three European competitions last season, ending third in their group before exiting in the last eight of the Europa Conference League.
Now led by Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored twice against Arsenal during his time at Manchester United, PSV will certainly be targeting the knockout rounds.
Lastly, FC Zürich, who won their first Swiss title since 2009 last season, are the group’s outsiders.
Franco Foda’s team were dumped out of the Champions League by Qarabağ, but bounced back with wins over Linfield and Heart of Midlothian.
So, this is Zürich’s seventh appearance in a UEFA group stage but, to date, they’ve recorded just ten victories from 34 outings.
Prediction: 1st: Arsenal. 2nd: Bodø/Glimt. 3rd: PSV Eindhoven. 4th: FC Zürich.
Arsenal to finish first in their Europa League group
Arsenal to top UEFA Europa League Group A- 1/3!
Group B: Dynamo Kyiv, Stade Rennais, Fenerbahçe & AEK Larnaca
This is the 17th consecutive season that Dynamo Kyiv have qualified for a UEFA group stage, but this campaign will be like no other.
The Blue and Whites will play ‘home’ matches in the Polish city of Kraków due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Premier League matches are being played on home soil though, behind closed doors, with Dynamo kicking off against Dnipro-1 on Sunday.
Just to be in the group stages is a massive achievement for Mircea Lucescu’s team who beat Fenerbahçe and Sturm Graz in Champions League qualifying, before falling to Benfica.
Here, they’ll be swiftly reunited with the Turkish giants they ousted at Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium just 43 days earlier.
Having dropped down, Fenerbahçe then had to beat both Slovácko and Austria Wien to qualify for a 13th UEFA group stage.
The Yellow Canaries finished third in Group D last season, so will be hoping to improve on that.
The favourites to finish top though are Stade Rennais, who reached the round of 16 of the Europa Conference League last time round.
Les Rouge et Noir have only lost four of their last 26 European home games, one of which came against Dynamo Kyiv in 2018.
Lastly, AEK Larnaca ended their four-year exile from group phases by beating Partizan and Dnipro-1 in qualifiers.
To date, the Cypriot outfit have won just two of 12 group matches, so are likely to finish rock bottom of the group.
Prediction: 1st: Stade Rennais. 2nd: Fenerbahçe. 3rd: Dynamo Kyiv. 4th: AEK Larnaca.
Group C: AS Roma, Ludogorets Razgrad, Real Betis & HJK
Can last season’s UEFA Europa Conference League winners make a splash in a higher-tier of competition?
I Giallorossi beat Feyenoord 1-0 in Tirana back in May, thereby winning Roma’s first European silverware since the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup of 1961.
José Mourinho, who’s now lifted all three major European trophies as a manager, is evidently very proud of his unique achievement.
Now, Roma are amongst the favourites to add this trophy to their growing collection.
Real Betis meantime have their eyes set on a first continental quarter-final since 1998.
The Copa del Rey winners have fallen in the round of 16 three times since then, beaten by Steaua in 2006, fierce rivals Sevilla in 2014 and Frankfurt last season.
This is los Verdiblancos’ third appearance in the Europa League group phase since 2018, losing just two of 12 matches.
Meantime, this’ll be Ludogorets’ ninth group stage in the last decade, beating Sutjeska Nikšić, Shamrock Rovers and Žalgiris Vilnius in qualifiers.
However, the 11 in-a-row Bulgarian champions have finished bottom of their group in each of the last two seasons, only ending up in the top two twice in the last eight attempts.
Lastly, having featured in the Europa Conference League last season, HJK have made it to a group stage in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever.
The Finnish champions overcame RFS, Maribor and Silkeborg in qualification, but have won just six of 22 group matches in their history.
Prediction: 1st: AS Roma. 2nd: Real Betis. 3rd: Ludogorets Razgrad. 4th: HJK.
Group D: Braga, Malmö, Union Berlin & Royale Union Saint-Gilloise
It wouldn’t be a Europa League group stages without Braga now would it?
The Archbishops will feature in the groups of this competition for the 11th time, doing so in seven consecutive campaigns.
In this past, Braga have only once failed to get beyond the group phase, reaching the quarter-finals just last season.
Here, Artur Jorge’s team will be up against some tough opposition.
Union Berlin made their UEFA group stage debut 12 months ago, qualifying for the Europa Conference League.
Now, having ended up fifth in the Bundesliga, the club’s best-ever finish, Urs Fischer’s team get a shot at this competition.
Just over the boarder in Belgium, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise are making their maiden group phase appearance.
In August, les Unionistes featured on the continent for the first time since 1964, narrowly ousted in Champions League qualifying by Rangers.
Last but by no means least, 1979 European Cup Finalists Malmö are competing in their seventh group phase in the last 11 years.
The Sky Blues were a Champions League club just last season and beat Víkingur, Dudelange and Sivasspor in qualifiers just to get here.
Expect all four clubs to pick up points, with this group finely poised.
Prediction: 1st: Braga. 2nd: Union Berlin. 3rd: Malmö. 4th: Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.
Group E: Manchester United, Real Sociedad, FC Sheriff Tiraspol & Omonia
Manchester United’s last three Europa League appearance have seen them reach the final, beating Ajax in 2017, before losing to Sevilla in 2020 and Villarreal 12 months later.
The Red Devils have won all six home group games in this competition, and should face little difficulty reaching the knockout stages.
Real Sociedad though could run them close.
La Real, who were hammered by Manchester United in the round of 32 in 2020, are competing in UEFA competition for three seasons running, last achieving this in 1982.
They’ve ended as runners-up in their last three groups, so this’ll be the minimum target for Imanol Alguacil’s team again.
FC Sheriff Tiraspol meantime made their Champions League debut last season, announcing themselves to the world by beating Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.
However, since then, manager Yuriy Vernydub has left to join the Ukrainian army, with more than half of their usual XI also departing.
The Divizia Națională champions also can’t play home games in Transnistria, due to the Russian invasion, so are forced to play in Chișinău.
Given that, could it be Omonia who challenge the big two?
The Cypriot Cup winners are competing a group stage for the third season running, having hammered Gent 4-0 in the play-offs.
However, to date, they’ve won just one of 12 group games, a record Neil Lennon’s team will be seeking to improve.
Prediction: 1st: Manchester United. 2nd: Real Sociedad. 3rd: Omonia. 4th: FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
Group F: Lazio, Feyenoord, Midtjylland & Sturm Graz
Last season’s Europa Conference League Finalists Feyenoord will be hoping for a similarly lengthy run in this competition.
Arne Slot’s team played 19 matches in Europe last season, but only got silver medals to show for their efforts.
But, with that experience behind them, Feyenoord will be aiming to reach the knockout stages of this competition for the first time since 2014/15.
Lazio meanwhile are familiar faces, given that they’ve featured in the Europa League group phase eight times in the last decade.
I Biancocelesti have come in the top two of eight of their last nine groups, so will fancy their chances of toping this section.
Meanwhile, this is Midtjylland third successive season in the group phase, but they’ve won just two of their last 16 matches in this stage.
Having been hammered in Champions League qualifying by Benfica, the Danish Superligaen side don’t come into this in the best shape.
Lastly, Sturm Graz will be hoping for better after finishing rock bottom of their group last season.
Die Schwoazn were dumped out of the Champions League by Dynamo Kyiv, meaning they’ve won just three of their last 18 European matches,
Prediction: 1st: Lazio. 2nd: Feyenoord. 3rd: Midtjylland. 4th: Sturm Graz.
Group G: Olympiacos, Qarabağ, Freiburg & Nantes
Group G is curious and quite unique in the fact that two outsiders, both in terms of European experience and coefficient rankings, are the two clubs from ‘big five’ leagues.
Nantes are back in UEFA competition for the first time since 2001, after beating Nice in May’s Coupe de France Final.
Given this lack of experience, Antoine Kombouaré could be up against it in terms of qualification.
Similarly, having ended up sixth in the Bundesliga, Freiburg are competing in their second group stage, nine years after their first.
In contrast to their French counterparts, Christian Streich’s side have made an excellent start to the campaign, so could be well placed ahead of this competition.
Then, this group features two teams from smaller leagues with vastly more continental knowhow.
This is Olympiacos’ 25th UEFA group stage in 26 years, reaching the knockout phase in each of the last four seasons.
However, the serial Greek champions went through a turbulent qualification process, sacking manager Pedro Martins after being hammered in the Champions League by Maccabi Haifa.
Then, under Carlos Corberán, the Red-Whites needed a penalty shootout to beat both ŠK Slovan Bratislava and Apollon Limassol in this competition.
Lastly, Qarabağ have now qualified for a group stage in nine successive seasons.
The Azerbaijani champions impressively beat Lech Poznań, Zürich and Ferencváros this summer, before narrowly losing to Viktoria Plzeň in the play-offs.
This group is the most fascinating of the lot because, realistically, all four clubs could finish in all four positions.
Prediction: 1st: Freiburg. 2nd: Olympiacos. 3rd: Qarabağ. 4th: Nantes.
Group H: Crvena zvezda, Monaco, Ferencváros and Trabzonspor
Group H too features no obvious front runner, nor a huge underdog.
What it does contain is a quartet of clubs who were all beaten in Champions League qualifying in the last month.
Red Star Belgrade, who lifted the European Cup in 1991, enjoyed their best continental run since then last season, falling to Rangers in the last 16 of this tournament.
Crvena zvezda were beaten by Maccabi Haifa in the play-offs, Milan Pavkov scoring a stoppage time own goal, but this is their sixth successive season in a UEFA group phase.
Having lost just five of their last 37 European home games, no one will be relishing a visit to Stadion Rajko Mitić.
As for Monaco, this is their sixth group stage since 2015, reaching the round of 16 last season.
However, for the second successive season, los Monégasques failed to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition, this time beaten by PSV Eindhoven after extra time.
Ferencváros endured a 15-year exile from group stages, but have now qualified for one in four successive seasons.
The Green Eagles are yet to reach the knockout rounds, winning just two of 18 group games in recent times.
Last, but by no means least, Trabzonspor won their first Süper Lig title since 1984 last season.
They’re actually winless in 13 European matches, losing nine of them, a record Abdullah Avcı's team will look to put right.
Prediction: 1st: Crvena zvezda. 2nd: Trabzonspor. 3rd: Monaco. 4th: Ferencváros.