Bundesliga duo Union Berlin and Freiburg have been handed favourable draws in the 2022/23 Europa League. Urs Fischer’s Union, who are second in the league, remain one of four unbeaten teams in the league alongside Freiburg. They head to Portugal, Sweden and Belgium whilst Freiburg will travel to Greece, Azerbaijan and France.
In the Europa Conference League, FC Köln’s toughest game will arguably come in Belgrade, where they face FK Partizan. Steffen Baumgart’s side will also travel to France to play OGC Nice and to Czech Republic, where they face FC Slovácko.
EUROPA LEAGUE | Group D: Braga, Malmo, Union Berlin, Union Saint-Gilloise
Coached by Artur Jorge, Braga finished fourth in last season’s Primeira Liga behind champions Porto, Sporting CP and Benfica. They’ve made two impressive signings in Simon Banza (25) from Lens for €2m and Diego Lainez on loan from Real Betis. Whilst keeping the impressive Ricardo Horta and talented Vitinha, Braga did lose David Carmo to Porto but gained €20m.
Malmo were crowned champions for the 2021 season but currently find themselves down in fifth after 20 games. Union’s defence will have to keep an eye on former Bayer Leverkusen forward Isaac Kiese Thelin, who has scored nine goals in 23 games this season. Malmo is a difficult place to visit, as Chelsea found out in 2021, managing just a 1-0 win in Sweden.
Impressively, Union Saint-Gilloise finished runners-up in the Jupiler League. They were knocked out of the Champions League by Rangers despite winning the first leg 2-0. USG have some impressive players including Dante Vanzeir (24), who has scored 30 goals in the last two season’s for the Belgian side.
Overall, Union should have no problem in advancing through to the knockout stages. They have to navigate some tricky trips but with Sheraldo Becker and Jordan Siebatcheu already creating quite the striker partnership, they should have no problem.
EUROPA LEAGUE | Group G: Olympiacos, Qarabag, Freiburg, Nantes
Unsurprisingly, Olympiacos won the Greek Super League last season. The Karaiskakis Stadium is always a difficult stadium to travel to given their impressive support. Carlos Corberán’s side also have some technically-gifted players in Mathieu Valbuena, Konrad de la Fuente and will always prove a goal threat with Youssef El Arabi.
One of the longest trips a team will have to take in this season’s Europa League is Freiburg’s trip to Baku, Azerbaijan. They face a Qarabag side that shouldn’t provide too many problems.
Impressively, Nantes won the Coupe de France last season, beating Nice 1-0 in the final. Matthias Ginter and Co. will need to keep close tabs on Ludovic Blas (24), a technically-gifted midfielder who is excellent at progressing the ball and had been linked with several European clubs this summer.
Advancing to the knockout stages is certainly achievable for Streich’s Freiburg, who are dangerous in attack with Roland Sallai, Ritsu Doan and Vincenzo Grifo.
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE | Group D: FK Partizan, FC Köln, OGC Nice, FC Slovácko
Finishing runners-up and two points behind rivals Crvena Zvezda, FK Partizan will be a difficult place to visit for FC Köln. Of course, the Bundesliga side have previous experience of playing in the city, suffering a 1-0 defeat against Crvena Zvezda in 2017, the last time the Billy Goats qualified for European football.
Steffen Baumgart’s side also face a difficult trip to the south of France, where they face OGC Nice. Head coach Lucien Favre will be a familiar face in the opposite dugout having coached Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund previously. Les Aiglons, owned by Ineos, have one of the biggest budgets in this season’s competition. They also boast the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Amine Gouiri and Kasper Dolberg.
FC Köln should certainly be picking up six points against FC Slovácko. They finished fourth in last season’s Fortuna liga but as Jonas Hector and Co. found out in Hungary, these places can be a difficult place to visit.
Baumgart’s side should have no problem picking up at least nine points, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s enough to advance to the knockout stages.