The 2020/21 UEFA Europa League knockout stages begin with the first legs of the Round of 32 matches to be played on Thursday, 18th February 2021.
As for who will be the eventual winners of the competition, all eyes will be on the heavyweight sides; the likes of AC Milan, Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Napoli.
But in every football tournament, there is always the probability of an upset, whereby an unexpected team triumphs against all odds.
In this article, TOP SOCCER BLOG looks at the potential dark horses that could stun the football world by carting home the 2020/21 Europa League trophy come to the end of the season.
1. LEICESTER CITY
Leicester City are not strangers when it comes to creating an upset, having stunned the world by winning the English Premier League title in 2015.
The current side — being managed by Brendan Rodgers — are very impressive and as a result, occupies the 2nd spot on the Premier league table. Leicester stunned defending Premier League champions, Liverpool, with a 3-1 defeat in their last match.
The foxes have a squad comprising a mixture of experience and talent in the likes of, Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Kasper Schmeichel, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Ayoze Perez, Johnny Evans, among others.
Leicester City will fancy their chances of winning the Europa League, and they cannot be ruled out.
Their next opponent in the competition is Slavia Prague.
2. REAL SOCIEDAD
Real Sociedad reached the Copa del Rey final last season and eliminated Real Madrid on their way through.
( Note: The Copa del Rey final has not been played yet due to the coronavirus.)
Sociedad boast of some experienced players who have played in top teams in their squad; the likes of former Manchester City star, David Silva, former Manchester United youngster, Adnan Januzaj, former Arsenal defender, Nacho Monreal, and former Real Madrid midfielder, Asier Illaramendi. Worthy of also being mentioned is hot Swedish striker, Alexander Isak — who is one of the most rated young strikers in Europe.
Real Sociedad face Manchester United in the round of 32.
When it comes to European club competitions, Ajax are regarded as one of the major clubs. The Dutch giants may have lost most of the bunch of talented youngsters that surprisingly reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2019, but the current squad contains a mixture of youngsters from the club’s ever-producing academy and experienced players in the likes of Quincy Promes, Lassina Traore, David Neres, Dusan Tadic, Edson Alvarez, Ryan Granveberch, Daley Blind, amongst others.
Ajax will be hopeful of bettering their runners-up run in the 2017 season where they lost the final to Manchester United.
Ajax will come up against Lille in their next match.
Steven Gerrard’s side are having an impressive 2020/21 season. They are currently on a 15-match winning run and are also 29-matches unbeaten. Thus, they are currently leading the Scottish Premier League table with an astonishing 21 points!
Rangers’ squad comprises experienced duo Jermain Defoe and goalkeeper Allan McGreggor, alongside the likes Alfredo Morelos, Ianis Hagi, Scott Arfield, Joe Aribo, and Leon Balogun.
With the Scottish league titled almost guaranteed, Rangers will focus their attention on vigorously pursuing victory in the Europa League. Don’t rule them out in their current form!
Rangers face Belgian side Antwerp, next in the Europa League.
5. SHAKTAR DONETSK
Ukrainian powerhouse, Shakhtar Donetsk, are ever-present in the Champions League or Europa league every season. On their day, they can upset the odds as we saw in the Champions League group stage this season, where they defeated Real Madrid home and away and also drew against Inter Milan home and away.
Shakhtar was unlucky to be eliminated from the Champions League and will be confident of creating a further upset in the Europa League.