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
Zürich qualified for Europa League by winning the 2017-18 Swiss Cup, which placed them in the group stage. They were drawn into Group A, and finished second behind group winner Bayer Leverkusen, wrapping up advancement to the Round of 32 after Matchday 4. They went 3-1-2 in group play, losing to Bayer and Cypriot club AEK Larnaca.
Napoli, on the other hand, was playing for a spot in the Champions League Round of 16 on Matchday 6 versus Liverpool, only to come up short in a 1-0 loss to the current leaders of the English Premier League. They came over to Europa League as the “best” third-place finisher from Champions League, and were seeded in the draw. They originally qualified for Champions League as the second place club in Italy’s Serie A last season.
Zürich currently finds themselves in 5th place in the 10-club Swiss Super League, one point behind St. Gallen for a spot in next season’s Europa League and eight points behind Basel for the second qualification spot in Champions League (Young Boys are running away with the league, currently 19 points ahead of Basel). They are also in the quarterfinals of the Swiss Cup, where a victory would again punch their ticket to Europa League. They face off against second division club SC Kriens when that competition resumes later this month.
Napoli is currently in second place in Serie A, nine points behind first place Juventus. They’ve been in second for most of the season, and as they are currently ahead of fourth place Lazio by 13 points (with 16 matches to play), they should find themselves playing in the Champions League group stage again next summer.
Never Tell Me the Odds
Napoli is currently tied with English club Chelsea as the overall favorite to win Europa League, and as such, are an overwhelming favorite in this match up with Zürich. FiveThirtyEight has the Italian club with 94% odds to advance to the Round of 16. Only Inter Milan is more heavily favored in this round. It will be up to a struggling Zürich to come out of this week’s match with at least a draw, though Napoli will likely defend their home pitch next week without issue.
I don’t expect Napoli to lose in this match up, so its odds for the tournament after next week will likely improve depending on their draw for the Round of 16. Will we see them face off with one of the lower ranked clubs, thus punching their ticket for the quarterfinals? Or will they end up drawn against one of the English or Spanish clubs, thus slowing their march to Baku? The Blues will need to take advantage of this matchup to ensure that they get the chance.
Until next time…