Entering Matchday 6 of the Europa League, there were 11 spots available in the knockout phase of the tournament. (I covered all the scenarios here and here for the groups that mattered). Most of the matches that mattered on Thursday went as expected, though there were a couple of surprises based on the tournament up to that point. Those will be the ones that we recap here (and not all 16ish matches that had a direct impact on seeding and everything else).
As a reminder, there will be 32 clubs in the knockout phase of Europa League – I will list them at the end by country – and the draw for that phase will be on Monday, with the next matches beginning in February.
Here’s the interesting results from Thursday’s action:
Milan entered the day with 10 points and ahead of Olympiacos. A draw or narrow loss would have been enough to see the Italian squad advance. I was actually incorrect leading up to the match, when I thought a 3-1 victory by Olympiacos wouldn’t be enough.
Looks like I was wrong (or tiebreakers are complicated when you down to the sixth tiebreaker. Olympiacos won at home by enough goals after scoring its third goal on a penalty kick in the 81st minute. That was enough to increase their goal differential in the group and finished second with 10 points. Milan is out of European competition for the year after failing to score just one more goal (or not score an own goal for their opponent, as was the case with Olympiacos’ second goal of the match.
The day began with all four clubs in the mix for advancement, and ended with the top two clubs being the two to advance. Go figure. Spartak was in fourth place, but could advance with a win in Spain. They instead gave up a goal in the 11th minute and were never close to victory.
In the other match, Rangers also needed a win, especially seeing that Spartak was trailing at halftime. A draw would not have been enough – Rapid Wien would have finished with 8 points and ahead of the Scottish club – and Rangers made it 83+ minutes in a scoreless draw with the chance to advance. Instead, Dejan Ljubicic scored a goal for the Austrian club to punch their ticket, and Rapid Wien settled into second behind Villarreal because of their head-to-head results.
This was my favorite group in the entire tournament. Nobody seemed to want to take ownership the entire group stage, and all four clubs could have claimed it on the last day.
Genk had the upper hand, based on matchup and the fact that they had the most points entering action on Thursday. They took advantage of that matchup scoring early – two goals in the first five minutes – and often – two second half goals within four minutes of each other – to send Sarpsborg back home to Norway.
But the other matchup was perhaps more surprising. Beşiktaş was hosting with the chance to advance on a win or draw. Instead, Malmö FF notched the victory on the road, scoring in the 51st minute and holding on for victory.
Standard Liege entered the day with the clearest path to the knockout phase: they needed a win, and were facing off against the only club that was eliminated from contention for advancement. They also needed a relatively big win to help in tiebreakers and all that, but they definitely needed to win.
So what happened? They scored no goals and drew to the worst club in the group, making the 3-0 loss suffered by Krasnodar irrelevant. Krasnodar entered leading the league and settles into second place because of the head-to-head goal differential versus Sevilla, but they were probably finding out what kind of gift to send to the lads from Arkhisarspor after the Turkish club played spoiler.
As mentioned, the knockout phase will feature 32 clubs (from 18 associations), and seeded clubs will be drawn against unseeded clubs on Monday to determine the next round of action (in order of association UEFA ranking with seeded clubs in bold):
- Spain: Real Betis, Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal
- England: Arsenal and Chelsea
- Italy: Inter Milan, Lazio, and Napoli
- Germany: Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt
- France: Rennes
- Russia: Krasnodar and Zenit Saint Petersburg
- Portugal: Benfica and Sporting CP
- Belgium: Club Brugge and Genk
- Ukraine: Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk
- Turkey: Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray
- Austria: Rapid Wien and Red Bull Salzburg
- Greece: Olympiacos
- Switzerland: Zürich
- Czech Republic: Slavia Prague and Viktoria Plzeň
- Croatia: Dinamo Zagreb
- Scotland: Celtic
- Belarus: BATE Borisov
- Sweden: Malmö FF
Knockout phase draw
Clubs won’t be drawn against another club from the same association, so we’ll have to see whose path to the final gets easier (or harder) based on the opening match. Chelsea has been favored to win since the outset of the tournament – at least according to FiveThirtyEight – but the two Italian clubs down from Champions League are now nipping at their heels. A they won’t be drawn against either of those clubs, but there are plenty of unseeded teams that could give them fits.
We are bummed that Europa League is hibernating for a few months, but we’ll be back with coverage in February when matches resume.
Until next time…