After an evening full of football all over Europe on Thursday, we have completed the first leg of the Europa League Round of 32. While most matches went as expected, there were a handful of results that went against those expectations and could set up some compelling football in Leg 2 next week.
To recap this week’s action – especially because of the quick turnaround before Leg 2 next week – we’re going to focus this recap on the results that improved the club’s chances most to advance to the next round, based on the odds presented by our friends at FiveThirtyEight. It does not mean that the clubs with the biggest increase are now favored to advanced to the Round of 16; in most cases, the favorites are still the clubs hosting the second leg because they were seeded in the draw. Nevertheless, these four matches all saw their results from this week give them a better chance at making it to the next round.
Of all the results in Europa League this week, this was perhaps the most shocking. Arsenal entered the contest in Belarus with an 83% chance of advancing to the Round of 16, and a 6% chance of winning the whole thing. They are still favored, especially with the action shifting to Emirates Stadium next week. But the plucky upstarts from Belarus increased their odds of advancement from 17% to 44% with their victory, the largest change across the Europa League Round of 32. They still likely need a miracle to advance, and Arsenal will likely be buoyed by supporters that were angry after the loss on Thursday, but the Gunners are the club starting in a hole, not FC BATE.
Lost in the shuffle of all the matches on Thursday was the Round of 32 match played on Tuesday, with Fenerbahçe holding on to defeat Zenit at home. The Turkish club entered the match as the underdog, with only a 39% chance of advancing. With both clubs not given much chance beyond the Round of 16, the match was relegated to the “Best of the Rest” in our advance coverage before the match, and neither club is still expected to flame out next round. But Fenerbahçe has now become the favorite in this matchup, with a 65% chance of winning, a 26% increase.
About 88 minutes into this one, it looked like the (slight) favorite and home team Olympiacos would pull this one out, as they led 2-1 and had held the Ukrainian club scoreless for over 60 minutes of match time. But Benjamin Verbič had other ideas, netting the equalizer in the 89th minute. With a home game looming for Kiev, it moved their odds of advancing from 44% pre-match to a favored position of 67%, and with two away goals in the bag, it opens up a range of results that will allow them to advance to the Round of 16.
And while there were a few other matches with results that led to large increases in odds – Benfica increased 24% to 86%, Villarreal increased 22% to 80% and Sevilla increase 22% to 83% – the last match I want to briefly highlight here flipped the favorite (ever so slightly).
Salzburg was the seeded club in this match, and as such, they were the favorite with a 68% chance of advancing. They scored relatively early on – a goal in the 17th minute – and held that 1-0 lead to half time and nearly fifteen minutes into the second half. Club Brugge equalized in the 64th minute, and took the lead for good in the 81st, holding on for the home victory. The win made a favorite out of the Belgians, increasing their odds of advancing to 52% after entering the match with a 32% chance. Not quite a heavy favorite, and with Thursday’s match looming from Salzburg, I’d still consider this one a toss-up, much like the odds seem to indicate.
Will be doing more in-depth write-ups of the Leg 2 matches that seem compelling in advance of the matches next week, and then preview the Round of 16 after the draw on 22 February. We hope you continue to join us for our continuing coverage of the (second) most exciting club tournament in European football!
Until next time…