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
Malmö qualified for European competition this year by winning the Swedish Allsvenskan back in during the 2017 season (Swedish football runs April to November due to the northern climate). They were placed in the Champion League first qualifying round, where they defeated Kosovar champ Drita. In the second qualifying round, they defeated Romanian champion CFR Cluj, before losing to MOL Vidi, the Hungarian champ, in the third qualifying round.
This loss moved them over to the Europa League play-off round, where they defeated Danish champion Midtjylland, which qualified them for the group stage. The were drawn in Group I, one of the more exciting/boring groups in the competition (because nobody seemed to want to take control of it throughout the entire group stage), before finishing second to group winner Genk after winning in Turkey on Matchday 6.
Chelsea clinched a spot on the Europa League group stage by winning last season’s FA Cup in England, and advanced to the Round of 32 by winning Group L over BATE Borisov, MOL Vidi, and PAOK, finishing the round with a 5-1-0 record.
Malmö’s league season has already concluded, and the club booked themselves a return trip to Europa League by finishing third in the Allsvenskan. They advanced over Hammarby IF, who finished with the same 58 points, due to a better goal differential (+28 v +21). They will begin next season’s Europa League competition in the first qualifying round, just missing out on the second qualifying round when they lost in the Svenska Cupen final to Djurgårdens IF.
Chelsea is currently in fourth place in the English Premier League, though they are a seeemingly distant 12 points behind the leaders Manchester City and Liverpool. Nevertheless, should they main their current position through the end of league play (or win Europa League), they will qualify for the group stage of Champions League next season. Failing that, they are still alive in both English cup competitions – the EFL and FA Cups – and could return to Europa League should they win eiher of those.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Chelsea earned a spot in this preview series because they are tied with Napoli with a 12% chance of winning Europa League, at least according to FiveThirtyEight. But first, they have to get past Malmö, which they are also expected to do in 84% of simulations. The Swedes obviously have very long odds to advance beyond this round, and they are at a disadvantage in that Chelsea gets to host the second leg of this matchup at Stamford Bridge.
There haven’t really been any results by Chelsea this season that indicate that they will struggle in this matchup, and I don’t expect them too either. They were unbeaten during group play, and I truly wonder if they will send their first team to Sweden for this week’s match (for example, striker Eden Hazard only played in two group stage matches). We’ll check back in next week before the start of the second leg, but I’m not expecting any surprises in this one.
Until next time…