As the Europa League preliminary rounds have come to a close, it has brought about a very important part of the competition, the group stage draw. Now, it may seem like a bunch of balls being drawn from a pot and teams being put in certain groups based on that, but it is much more than that. With that said, let’s take a look at who Everton were picked to compete with over the next several months:
Olympique Lyon was the first name on the board for Everton’s group as they were in the first pot due to their high finish last season in Ligue 1. They finished 4th in that league behind some very talented squads, while holding their own in the Champions League and Europa League against eventual runners-up in both competitions—Juventus and Ajax respectively. Unfortunately, Lyon lost their best player in Alexandre Lacazette in the summer transfer window to Arsenal and were forced to replace him this season. Fortunately for them, though, former Real Madrid player, Mariano, seems to be filling in nicely, while Nabil Fekir has bagged three goals already for the team, who have taken 7 of a possible 9 points from their first three games. They will certainly be a challenge for Everton in both games that they play, mainly because they carry more pace than Everton do, which could lead to goals on the counter attack. Their matchups will certainly be the best this group will have to show.
Atalanta (Serie A)
The next team in Everton’s Europa League group is Atalanta, who came out of the third group of teams that were picked. They also finished 4th in their league last season and were able to grab impressive wins against the top dogs in their league all season long. Atalanta is a team that typically likes to attack down the left side of the field and cross balls in often, which could prove costly for Everton, as they have not had a consistent right back all year and the right flank has been particularly weak at points this season. Since Everton’s first game of the group stage is at Atalanta on September 14th, this could be a particularly tricky tie. If Everton’s defense can stay strong and the Toffees can control possession, this should be a win or draw for them both times these teams play, but one never knows with those European games under the lights, especially as it would be sandwiched between a home game against Spurs and an away game at Old Trafford.
Apollon Limassol (Cyprus first division)
The final team drawn into Everton’s group was Apollon Limassol, who were in the final pot of teams at the draw. Apollon definitely seem to be the worst team in the group at first sight. They are the unknown of the group as all that has been seen this season from them is how they have worked their way through the qualifying rounds of Europa League, which, to their credit, was something they were unable to do last year. While it will be tough traveling to Cyprus, it will be hard for Apollon to match up with a much more talented squad. The Toffees should handle them easily.
Realistically, in this group, Everton will be aiming for first, but second seems a little more likely, as Lyon have a talented, aggressive squad that can take it to Everton.