Source: Imago Images
Source: Imago Images

European titles are worth winning

Football OlyBet 07.05.2024

Is there life beyond the Champions League? The question has been relevant for the better part of the last three decades. The answer? It really depends on the point of view.

To be frank, winning the Europa League or the Conference League (although that is the one trophy they do not yet have…) would probably not matter much for Real Madrid, neither the club nor the fans. Not for Manchester City either, at least these days – just 15 years ago they would have been in seventh heaven.

But it would matter for many clubs considered “top” too. Arsenal would take it in a heartbeat, as would Tottenham, Roma, Leipzig, Lyon, et cetera. In the past ten years, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, and Chelsea have won the Europa League. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Inter Milan have lost in the final. Tell the fans, tell the players it did not matter.

The same goes for the Conference League, the third European tier. Was there doubts about the top clubs not taking it seriously and seeing great finals between Jablonec and Cukaricki? So far, we have had two finals: Roma – Feyenoord in 2022 and West Ham – Fiorentina in 2023. All four clubs have European pedigree and are renowned around the world.

Titles are indeed worth winning. Who will be the finalists in 2024 and what to look out for?

All times listed below are in Eastern European Summer Time (GMT+3).

Club Brugge – Fiorentina (Conference League)

08.05, 19:45 @ Jan Breydel Stadion, Brugge
Fiorentina leads 2-3 on aggregate

Away from home, Brugge equalised twice after falling behind. They were eerily clinical, with just five shots to Fiorentina’s 31. Brugge have not beaten an Italian opponent in Europe for 20 years (12 attempts), but know this is their big chance. They have only ever played in two European finals, the last of them in 1977-78.

Fiorentina are looking to become the first team to reach back-to-back Conference League finals, and they most definitely want to go all the way this time after a tough 1-2 loss to West Ham a year ago. They are unbeaten in their last 12 European games and have been to Belgium in the group stages already, drawing 2-2 with Genk. A trophy – their first since 2001 – could be another stepping stone as they have been on the upward curve in the past few seasons.

Olympiakos – Aston Villa (Conference League)

09.05, 22:00 @ Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
Olympiakos leads 4-2 on aggregate

Away from home, Olympiakos upset the bookmakers who favoured Aston Villa heavily. Behind a hat-trick from 30-year-old Moroccan striker Ayoub El Kaabi, they now control the outcome; El Kaabi has scored eight goals in the Conference League (joint-most), and including the three he scored in the Europa League, he has scored the most goals of any player in a major European competition in 2023-24. Olympiakos are now just 90 minutes from their first European final ever.

Aston Villa are no royals either, but they have the pedigree of winning the European Cup in 1981-82. They will likely play Champions League football next season, but the home defeat could prove to be costly – winning in Piraeus will not be easy. First-choice keeper Emiliano Martinez was suspended for the first leg and his return could help the backline.

Bayer Leverkusen – AS Roma (Europa League)

09.05, 22:00 @ BayArena, Leverkusen
Leverkusen leads 0-2 on aggregate

Leverkusen has not played in a European final since their infamous 2001-02 Champions League run, but every football fan knows their 2023-24 story. We are now into May and they are still undefeated in all competitions – in other words, 48 games and more than 250 days … with just four or five games to go, could they do it?

A trip to Rome looked like a potential banana peel considering they lost 0-1 there a year ago, but Leverkusen navigated it expertly. Roma have not won on any of their last six away trips to Germany but reached the final last season, so are looking to make it back. Roma need Romelu Lukaku to find his shooting boots – the striker has scored seven goals in Europe this season, but has been firing blanks for the past three European games.

Atalanta – Marseille (Europa League)

09.05, 22:00 @ Gewiss Stadium, Bergamo
Tied 1-1 on aggregate

Atalanta has finished in the top eight of Serie A for the last seven seasons and have almost become Champions League regulars, but have nothing to show for it: they have lost the Coppa Italia final twice and finished third in the league three times. Atalanta have never reached an European final, but it has not been this close for quite some time. After dispatching Liverpool in the previous round, they feel they can go all the way.

Marseille played in the Europa League final in 2018 and have plenty of international pedigree, but have not won any trophies since 2011-12. To end their wait, they need to be better than lately, as they are winless in their last eight European games against Italian opposition (or since 2004) and have not won any of their last four away games. They should have done better at home.


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