The Europa League begins its next round in a few days, so we will be highlighting the matchups featuring either clubs with a chance to win it all or match-ups that could see either team pull out a victory and move on to the Round of 16.
While Europa League is not packed with the big names of the Champions League, there are still some high quality clubs playing for the title, and with it, an automatic berth in the Group Stage of next season’s Champions League.
How They Got Here
Krasnodar qualified for the Europa League Group Stage on virtue of their 4th place finish in the Russian Premier League last season, finishing only two points behind Spartak Moscow for a berth in the Champions League. They were drawn in Group J, where they finished second to Sevilla with 12 points, losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Spanish club. They were saved from elimination on Matchday 6 when Standard Liege failed to win against last place Akhisarspor, despite losing 3-0 to Sevilla.
Bayer Leverkusen qualified for the Europa League Group Stage by finishing 5th in the Bundesliga last season. They tied Borussia Dortmund and 1899 Hoffenheim with 55 points, but missed out of the Champions League based on goal differential. During the group stage, they finished first in Group A over Zürich, AEK Larnaca, and Ludogorets Razgrad with a 4-1-1 record. As a group winner, they were seeded in the Round of 32 draw and will host the second match next week.
Krasnodar is currently in second place in the Russian Premier League, one point behind Zenit Saint Petersburg and three points ahead of CSKA Moscow. Should they finish the season in the top three, they will claim a spot in the Champions League next season. They are also still alive in the current iteration of the Russian Cup, giving themselves an Europa League fall back should they fall out of the top three in league play
Bayer is currently in seventh place in the Bundesliga, two points out of qualifying for next season’s Europa League and 19 points behind league leader Borussia Dortmund. However, they are still alive in the DFB-Pokal, Germany’s cup competition, and could secure a spot back in Europa League by winning that trophy. Also, they are currently seven points back of 4th place RB Leipzig, and if they could catch them over the last 18 matches of the season, they would find themselves back in the Champions League instead.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Per FiveThirtyEight, Bayer Leverkusen is favored to advance to the Round of 16, and they also get the benefit of hosting the second leg of this head-to-head matchup. They’ve only been so-so in league play this season, though the Bundesliga is considered a better league than the Russian Premier League from top to bottom.
Neither club is favored heavily to advance much further than the Round of 16, with Bayer given only a 30% chance to make the quarterfinals. However, should there be some upsets of favored clubs over the next two weeks, that could change dramatically. Europa League may not have the same “names” that Champions League does, but it’s also not as top heavy as its much more lucrative counterpart.
The match on Thursday will be the first in European competition this season for Bayer’s new boss Peter Bosz, who replaced the sacked Heiko Herrlich in January. He’s been at the helm for three matches thus far, winning two and losing one, so I’m betting that he wants to make a strong impression with a solid performance against Krasnodar. The Russian club, on the other hand, will be looking to steal one at home before traveling to Germany next week for the rubber match that could potentially end their Europa League dreams before they really get started.
Until next time…