The final day of the Europa League group stage is here, and we have five of the 12 groups unsettled at the top, with three groups that are still looking for both participants in the knockout phase. 23 clubs enter Matchday 6 playing for 11 remaining spots, attempting to join the 13 clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Dynamo Kyiv, Red Bull Salzburg, Lazio, Sporting CP, Fenerbahce, Real Betis, Dinamo Zagreb, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Zurich – that have already clinched advancement.
Why Winning the Group Matters
For the groups still left to be completely decided, it is in the clubs’ best interest to finish in first place if possible. As a refresher, the knockout phase of Europa League features the first and second place clubs from each of the 12 groups – plus the eight third-place teams from Champions League. Clubs are drawn against each other for two legs (with clubs from the same association unable to face each other), with the group winners and the top four third-place teams seeded for the draw.
The seeded team gets to host the second match of the knockout round, which allows them to play in their home stadium to clinch should they struggle on the road in the first leg. There were a couple of teams that were able to take advantage of this during last year’s tournament. Zenit Saint Petersburg and Lazio both lost the first match of last year’s knockout stage on the road to unseeded opponents, only to return home and leave no question as to why they were the seeded club.
Also, over the past five Europa League knockout phases, only 31 unseeded clubs have advanced to the Round of 16 (38.75%), though two of the past five Europa League champions were unseeded in the knockout stage. Not an unbeatable advantage, but still worth one striving for.
The “Settled” Groups
In this first part, I’ll cover the four groups that have been settled. One group has determined their two participants with final placement yet to be determined, while the other three have final places set that cannot be changed regardless of the results later today. I’ll also add a section at the end to cover the eight third-place clubs coming over from Champions League and who will be seeded for the knockout phase.
In a subsequent piece, I’ll cover all the other groups (where the excitement will be today), including two groups where all four clubs are still in the mix.
Here are the four groups that will have minimal drama today:
Bayer Leverkusen and Zürich have both clinched spots in the knockout phase of the tournament. Matchday 6 will determine final placement and who will be seeded and unseeded next round. Bayer (10 points) will travel to Cyprus to face AEK Larnaca, while Zürich (9 points) heads to Bulgaria to face off against Ludogorets Razgrad.
Zürich needs to win to have any hope of claiming the group outright since they would lose the tiebreaker to Bayer on away goals scored in their two head-to-head matches. Bayer cannot control their finish in the group, so I anticipate that they will not send their top squad to Bulgaria.
Eintracht Frankfurt (15 points) is undefeated and has clinched first place, while Lazio (9 points) has clinched second. Their reserve clubs will meet in Rome and kick the ball around on Matchday 6 with nothing to play for.
Champions League group stage third place teams
The top four clubs will be seeded in the draw for the knockout stage. Here’s how they rank after finishing third in Champions League:
- Napoli (Group C)
- Valencia (Group H)
- Inter Milan (Group B)
- Benfica (Group E)
- Victoria Plzen (Group G)
- Club Brugge (Group A)
- Shakhtar Donetsk (Group F)
- Galatasaray (Group D)
Click here for Part 2