Europa League and Conference League draws analysed: Liverpool, West Ham, Brighton, Villa takeaways

It might not be the elite competition, but both the Europa League and the Conference League can be a source of serious fun for those competing in them.

The draws for the group stages of the two competitions have now taken place, and the likes of Liverpool, West Ham, Brighton and Aston Villa now know their fates for the coming season.

We have asked our experts Gregg Evans, Roshane Thomas, Andy Naylor and Jacob Tanswell for their thoughts on the draws for their teams.

Europa League


Opponents: LASK, Union SG, Toulouse

First impressions of the draw

Look, it is not where Liverpool want to be after six seasons in the Champions League, but sometimes the most memorable moments for supporters are on unusual, unexpected away days and this draw has certainly thrown up a few.

How difficult the games against LASK, Union Saint-Gilloise and Toulouse will be depend on the strength of the team Jurgen Klopp decides to field. “We’ll make it our competition,” he said last season, publicly playing down any sadness around entering the continent’s second-rate competition.

So while the group stage might not be that exciting in terms of big-name opponents, what is likely to follow should be, and in the meantime, trips to Austria, Belgium and France will be lapped up by those lucky enough to get their hands on tickets.

What looks like the key game and why?

Liverpool will fancy their chances against all three opponents having avoided a difficult group, and in truth there is no real stand-out crunch game.

Representatives of LASK, from Linz — the third largest city in Austria — smiled when they were drawn in Liverpool’s group, immediately recognising the quality of their opponents.

Union Saint-Gilloise impressed in Europe last season and did well domestically but while Toulouse won the French Cup, they finished 13th in Ligue 1, so they shouldn’t offer up too much resistance.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

Seeing Kevin Mac Allister play against his brother Alexis will be exciting when Liverpool play Union Saint-Gilloise. Both previously played for Brighton but moved away this year.

Which game are you most looking forward to?

The trip to LASK is appealing, largely because it’s a new destination for Liverpool but also because of the surprise element around their team.

Liverpool have never played LASK so history will be created regardless. It’s also only the third time the Austrian side have ever qualified for the group stages so they will pumped up — especially when visiting Anfield — and sometimes that throws up quirky storylines.

What should the rest of the group expect from your club?

Plenty of noise around fixtures, tough games, and perhaps a scattering of second-string players. There’s no doubt that Liverpool will use the competition to introduce academy players into the first-team with the likes of winger Ben Doak and centre-back Jarell Quansah likely to be at the top of the list.

With a wealth of attacking talent in the squad, Klopp will also be able to name a very strong alternative line-up if needed.

The drop down in status might take a little getting used to but once the Europa League is up and running, Liverpool will be out to win it.

Gregg Evans

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Doak (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

West Ham United

Opponents: Olympiacos, Freiburg, TSC Backa Topola

First impressions of the draw

West Ham United have the quality and experience to qualify from Group A. It is worth remembering the east London finished top in the group stage of the Europa League in 2021-22 and Conference League in 2022-23.

What looks like the key game and why?

The match against Olymapicos could be a tough test for West Ham. The 47-time Greek champions are familiar with playing in European competitions and they will be determined to improve on last season’s group stage exit from the competition.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

Matthias Ginter, of SC Freiburg, has struggled to replicate the heights of his once-promising career at Borussia Dortmund. The 29-year-old, who has been capped 51 times by Germany, will be tasked with marking Michail Antonio and company. It will be interesting to see how the centre-back deals with West Ham’s attacking threat.

Which game are you most looking forward to?

The match against Olympiacos. It will be a tough test but Moyes will have confidence his team can seal victory. The east London side have upcoming trips to Greece, Germany and Serbia. Moyes has often spoken about his excitement that fans get to visit new countries thanks to their participation in European competitions — and this season will be no different.

What should the rest of the group expect from your club?

Having won the Europa Conference League in June, West Ham have aspirations to achieve another successful European cup run. The additions of Edson Alvarez, James Ward-Prowse, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Mohammed Kudus mean West Ham have much-needed squad depth.

“We went to Australia (for a pre-season tour) and they were talking about us winning the Conference League,” said Moyes. “To be in that position is huge so I’m glad I’ve got my first one and I’m looking forward to trying to get my second one — and seeing if we can take West Ham on another European tour and one which is successful.”

Roshane Thomas

What should West Ham expect from Freiburg?

Sebastian Stafford-Bloor: Freiburg are not to be underestimated. Christian Streich may well be one of the most likeable characters in the Bundesliga, but he is also its longest-serving head coach and arguably among its best. Over the last three seasons he has taken his side from 10th to 8th to 5th and — given that Freiburg have the fourth-smallest wage spend in the league — that is a vast over-achievement.

A lack of significant squad turnover during recent years has helped to forge an honest and hard-working group, but also a side who use the ball and the flanks well and who defend to an extremely high standard.

Watch out for Vincenzo Griffo’s delivery and Michael Gregoritsch’s movement in the penalty box. But West Ham will also need to do their homework on Streich’s set pieces, which have consistently been amongst the most effective in Germany.


Opponents: Ajax, Marseille, AEK Athens

Which game are you most looking forward to?

AEK Athens. I’ve never been to the historic Greek capital (been to Amsterdam and Marseille), so that’s another city to tick off the list, plus they are a club with a rich tradition.

They missed out on the Champions League in the final round of qualifying, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Antwerp.

What looks like the key game and why?

Hard to call until the order of fixtures is confirmed, but Ajax will be special for defender Joel Veltman, a former Champions League semi-finalist with the Dutch club.

The benefit of coming top is a passage straight through to the last 16 in early March, welcome breathing space after the climax to the group fixtures in mid-December.

Finishing second would mean another two matches in February in the knockout play-offs against a team dropping down from the Champions League groups, to squeeze into an already busy schedule.

Overall, the aim has to be top two to get through.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’m intrigued by the July move and development of Ismaila Sarr at Marseille.

He’s a player I always liked at Watford. He scored his first goal for his new club in Saturday’s 2-0 home win against Stade Brest.

What should the rest of the group expect from your club?

Loud fans and a demonstrative head coach, with a team playing a brand of high-risk for high-reward football, the like of which they probably won’t have encountered before.

Twenty-five years ago, Brighton were preparing for a fourth-tier ‘home’ game against Scunthorpe, in front of 2,625 fans, at Gillingham (a ground share 75 miles away in another county).

They’re in Europe for the first time and they are going to make the most of it, on the pitch and in the stands.

Andy Naylor

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(OLAF KRAAK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Conference League

Aston Villa

Opponents: AZ Alkmaar, Legia Warsaw, Zrinjski

First impressions of the draw

Villa would share the same level of excitement regardless of who they were drawn against in the Conference League. The club sent a contingent of delegates to Monaco and should be seen as one of the favourites in the competition. It looks a well-balanced draw, with top seeds AZ Alkmaar a consistent European side and trips to Poland (Legia Warszawa) and Bosnia (HSK Zrinjski) present a different set of challenges. Managing travel will be important to Unai Emery.

What looks like the key game and why?

Both games against AZ Alkmaar. Win or avoid losing both and Villa are in a good position to progress into the knockout stages. UEFA’s coefficient ranking ranks them the 38th best side in the world and especially at home, will give Emery’s side the toughest test. With that said, going to unusual destinations — in this case Bosnia — provides intangible challenges, such as managing the logistics and playing in a small stadium where the capacity is just 9,000.

Which opposition player are you most looking forward to seeing?

Alkmaar have a few ex-Premier League players in Mat Ryan and Jordy Clasie, who played for Brighton and Southampton respectively, but the unknown quantity is Jens Odgaard. The Danish forward is only 24 but has played in three different countries. He has also had a spell with Inter Milan. He is one of those types of forwards you are just waiting, hoping, will burst into life and hit the purple patch his potential warrants.

Which game are you most looking forward to?

HSK Zrinjski looks cool. A typical, almost stereotypical Conference League side. The stadium is rather open and unshielded from inclement weather and those type of teams carry a sense of mystique.

What should the rest of the group expect from your club?

Emery to take this very seriously. He has won four Europa League titles, is a specialist in Europe and knows how to put a very strong team out in each game. In other words, he will take no prisoners.

Jacob Tanswell

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Jordy Clasie (ED VAN DE POL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Mark Carey’s data takeaways

Who has the best chance of winning the competition?

In principle, Liverpool have to be the favourites in this year’s Europa League. It was only the 2021-22 season that Jurgen Klopp’s men were in the Champions League final, just missing out on a seventh title after their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in Paris.

Per Opta’s Power Rankings (between zero and 100), Liverpool’s rating of 94.5 is the third-highest among the 13,000-team database, which highlights how anomalous their place in this year’s Europa League is in the wider context of their recent success.

In practice, Liverpool might not take the competition by storm as Klopp is likely to rotate his squad during their group stage games against LASK, Union Saint-Gilloise, and Toulouse. No club wants to lose games of football, but the Europa League will not be a priority to Liverpool as they aim to return to Europe’s top competition next season.

Should Premier League clubs be confident?

Brighton enter the Europa League for the first time in their 121-year history, but they should fear no one in their group containing Ajax, Marseille, and AEK Athens. While those three teams have a strong history in European competition — with Ajax and Marseille both winning the European Cup — Opta’s Power Rankings place Roberto De Zerbi’s side as the strongest team on current performances, as the 20th highest in the database with a rating of 89.4.

The same goes for West Ham United, whose rating of 88.8 is the 23rd highest in the database — well ahead of their fellow Group A members of Olympiacos, Freiburg, and TSC. Couple that with their success in the Europa Conference League last season, and David Moyes’s side have the experience, strength and confidence to have a good go at this season’s competition.

Which player should I be keeping an eye on?

If you are not aware of Florian Wirtz’s talents by now, where have you been?

After shaking off his injury issues, the German attacking midfielder reminded everyone of his talent last season — earning the Europa League Young Player of the Season award for his output.

florian wirtz chances created 2022 23

Only Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes logged more open-play chances created (23) than Wirtz’s 21 in total, across the whole competition — which highlights his eye for a pass as well as the intelligence of his execution when operating between the lines.

This season, Bayer Leverkusen’s group containing Qarabag, Molde, and BK Hacken looks very winnable, with Wirtz likely to be the one to wreak havoc in the opposition back lines again. At just 20 years old, an injury-free season could see the German’s potential go to another level in a Leverkusen shirt.

(Photos: Getty Images)

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