An often criticized competition, looked down upon by fans of clubs regularly appearing in the Champions League. Yet, it contains some of the finest underrated talent in Europe and provides a route to play against the elite of the continent. Some clubs may not take it seriously, but most do and players who impress may find themselves being scouted ahead of a summer move.
Here’s the Europa League Perfect XI, of this campaign, including some hidden gems and top talents. (Yes, it is three at the back)
The Schalke stopper is guard of the best defence in the Europa League this season. Playing in all eight games in their current run to the last 16, he’s kept five clean sheets, conceding just three goals, better than any keeper in the competition.
If he’s able to continue his heroics, he may be the next German keeper to switch to the Premier League, but first he’ll look at Europa League glory with Schalke.
The highly coveted Schalke captain and World Cup winner has been a rock for the German side this season. Another member of the Europa League’s tightest backline and he’s popped up with a goal and assist in his eight games.
Arsenal chose Shkodran Mustafi in the summer, a Europa League title could make them regret not choosing Howedes instead.
The ex-Manchester City man has had to rebuild his reputation in Germany and he’s done very well in doing so. It’s hard to steer away from Schalke defenders as they have been the best defensive unit in the Europa League this season.
35 interceptions, 18 tackles won, winning 63% of aerial duels and grabbing an assist in eight games, maybe City could’ve done with him this season
A solid addition last summer, Manchester United haven’t conceded when Bailly has played in the Europa League, that says it all. A quick and decisive centre half, he’s the type of defender United have been missing for years.
A red card against St Etienne blemishes his record but to make the Perfect XI for this competition, Bailly is a certainty at the heart of the backline.
This man may have been the receiver of criticism and used as United’s scapegoat when they lose this season, but he has shone brightest in the Europa League. That may be a given due to his £89 million fee, but he is still raw and has potential to fulfill, with time on his side.
Dictating from deep and spraying passes across the field whilst making late runs into the box, he has the talent to be the man that seals Champions League football and a Europa League trophy for Red Devils.
His energy, passion and power has helped steer Roma to the last 16 so far. He’s the perfect partner for Pogba, leading him through games and able to cover whilst the Frenchman strides forward.
He’s excelled this season, keeping Chelsea on his radar, making all the reason to slot him into the Perfect XI midfield. Plus, the ability to hit a long-range strike into the top corner always helps.
Young, dynamic and with incredible vision, it’s a surprise no one has prized this talented Belgian from Anderlecht yet. Versatile across the whole midfield, the 19 year old is one of Europe’s most exciting prospects.
He has three goals so far and can lead this dark-horse team further in the competition
A fleet-footed Brazilian winger, he’s not the first of his kind. Shakhtar have always been a dangerous side in European competition and after Henrikh Mkhitaryan departed in 2013, the mantle was left to be taken up.
83% take on success, four goals and two assists in eight games. Taison is their catalyst and is making himself noticed in the same way Mkhitaryan did back in Ukraine.
One of the most underrated strikers in Europe for me. He was key in Manchester City’s two title victories, scoring the equalizer in the comeback against QPR and a brace against Aston Villa, taking them a win away from the league in 2014.
Now in Italy, he’s top scorer in the Europa League with eight goals in seven games. Tall but with an elegant touch and clinical finish, a Perfect XI starter.
A serial winner. Was there ever any doubt that he’d struggle at United? If you did, you’ve been proved so defiantly wrong. A leader, spearhead and match-winner, he sealed United’s passage to the last 16 single-handedly with a hat-trick against St Etienne.
Five goals and two assists so far, don’t be surprised if United reach the final that Zlatan has a say in the result.
Another player off the Ajax express chain of strikers, the young Dane is their new main man. Three goals in eight games so far with an assist to his name, the 19-year old is another of Europe’s most promising young players.
With Ajax’s pedigree of producing talented footballers, there’s understandable hype around him and if he can lead Ajax far in the Europa League, expect him to mentioned in the transfer mill this summer.