Europa League is taking a break until February now that the group stage is complete. But before it does, they needed to determine the pairings for the next round of matches.
The draw took place on 17 December at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. The knockout phase in Europa features 16 more clubs than Champions League, and another round, so they’ll be playing (nearly) weekly matches once play resumes on 14 February.
As a reminder, here’s how the twelve groups were settled during group play:
|Group||Winners (seeded in draw)||Runners-up (unseeded in draw)|
|A||Bayer Leverkusen (GER)||Zürich (SUI)|
|B||Red Bull Salzburg (AUT)||Celtic (SCO)|
|C||Zenit Saint Petersburg (RUS)||Slavia Prague (CZE)|
|D||Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)||Fenerbahçe (TUR)|
|E||Arsenal (ENG)||Sporting CP (POR)|
|F||Real Betis (ESP)||Olympiacos (GRE)|
|G||Villarreal (ESP)||Rapid Wien (AUT)|
|H||Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)||Lazio (ITA)|
|I||Genk (BEL)||Malmö FF (SWE)|
|J||Sevilla (ESP)||Krasnodar (RUS)|
|K||Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)||Rennes (FRA)|
|L||Chelsea (ENG)||BATE Borisov (BLR)|
In addition, the eight third-place teams come over from Champions League to compete, with the top four clubs seeded in the draw. Those eight teams are:
|Seed||Club||CL Group points|
|3||Inter Milan (ITA)||8|
|5||Viktoria Plzeň (CZE)||7|
|6||Club Brugge (BEL)||6|
|7||Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)||6|
This will be the final round of the tournament where clubs from the same association cannot be drawn against each other. Likewise, if they played in the same group during the last round, they also cannot meet again until the quarterfinals. The seeded clubs will host the second match of the upcoming two-leg Round of 32, and the first leg will begin on 12 February 2019.
Spain leads the 18 associations represented in Europa League with four clubs. Along with the three clubs participating in Champions League, Spain still has all seven participants in European competition this season, though I don’t expect that to continue beyond this round. I’m not alone, with FiveThirtyEight giving favorite status to only four of the Spanish teams in this round – Barcelona in Champions League (84% favorite to advance), and Valencia (76%), Real Betis (70%), and Sevilla (61%) from Europa League. Nevertheless, Spain’s success in continental competition this season thus far has allowed them to continue to expand their lead as the #1 association in UEFA, as well as the four of the top 10 clubs.
Three countries are represented in the top six, at least according to the odds to win the entire tournament. Chelsea and Napoli are currently co-favorites, boasting a 14% chance of winning the tournament according to FiveThirtyEight. Inter Milan is right behind as the only other club with over a one-in-ten chance of claiming the title (currently 11%). Arsenal, Valencia, and Sevilla round out the top six, with about 8% chance of claiming the title. These odds are somewhat a result of favorable draws in the Round of 32.
Round of 32 Favorites
Genk joins those top six clubs as having a 70% chance of advancing through to the Round of 16. They are currently a 3-to-1 favorite against Slavia Prague, the club with the lowest UEFA coefficient in the entire tournament. This doesn’t mean they are the worst team; they did finish only one point behind Zenit Saint Petersburg in group play. But they don’t have a recent history of performing well in Europe. This season’s success, however, has already moved them up the UEFA rankings, as they’ve doubled their points during this year’s competitions.
Portuguese side Benfica is also benefiting from an “easy” draw in the Round of 32, and has a 64% chance of advancing on to the Round of 16. They face off against Galatasaray, the worst third-place team over from Champions League – they garnered only four points in one of the weaker groups – so the odds given might reflect the fact that they played in the Champions League group stage. Based on their performance in the Turkish Süper Lig so far this year, they don’t appear to be the same club that claimed the league title there last season. If current standings hold, Galatasaray would be on the outside looking in regarding European competition next season.
There are two seeded clubs that are barely not favored in their Round of 32 matchups. Dinamo Zagreb won their Europa League group pretty handily as the third-best team in the group (17.500 UEFA coefficient), overcoming both Anderlecht (48.000) and Fenerbahçe (23.500). They also didn’t lose a match during the group stage, completing the six matches with a 4-2-0 record and +8 goal differential.
This has improved their UEFA ranking by 21 places, yet they remain a slight underdog versus Viktoria Plzeň, a third-place finisher from Champions League. Zagreb isn’t given much of a chance for the rest of the tournament; they have a 15% chance of advancing to the quarterfinals should they defeat Viktoria Plzeň, and a less than 1% of winning it all. Nevertheless, a favorable draw, combined with some upsets elsewhere in the Round of 32, could allow for their strong performance to continue longer into the tournament.
The other seeded club that is currently a slight underdog is the aforementioned Villarreal, who plays Sporting CP in the Round of 32. Based on group play, this makes a little sense, as Villarreal didn’t clinch their spot in the knockout phase until Matchday 6, while Sporting CP had no difficulties in their group stage draw. But perhaps reflective of how close this matchup actually is, both clubs have about the same odds to reach every subsequent round, with both clubs have a 2% chance of winning the whole thing.
With an extra round in the knockout stage (as compared to Champions League) and a little more condensed schedule, Europa League has the chance for more weird results. Everything could go “chalk” the first round and see two favorites drawn against each other in the next round, opening up an opportunity for a fringe team to go through.
Here’s the complete draw match dates. Team 1 will host the 1st leg, with Team 2 hosting the other:
|Team 1||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
|Viktoria Plzeň||Dinamo Zagreb||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Clubb Brugge||Red Bull Salzburg||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Rapid Wien||Inter Milan||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Slavia Prague||Genk||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Krasnodar||Bayer Leverkusen||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Zürich||Napoli||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Malmö FF||Chelsea||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Shakhtar Donetsk||Eintracht Frankfurt||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Celtic||Valencia||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Rennes||Real Betis||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Olympiacos||Dynamo Kyiv||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Lazio||Sevilla||14 February 2019||20 February 2019|
|Fenerbahçe||Zenit Saint Petersburg||12 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Sporting CP||Villarreal||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|BATE Borisov||Arsenal||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
|Galatasaray||Benfica||14 February 2019||21 February 2019|
Until next time…