The Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League unfolds over the next two Thursdays, so before the action kicks off around Europe on Thursday afternoon, we thought we would preview the eight matchups of the round.
Up next, we’re going to take a look at the matchup between French club Stade Rennes and English Premier League club Arsenal. Their leg one match kicks off from Roazhon Park in Rennes, France on Thursday 7 March at 5:55pm GMT (12:55pm EST).
What Happened in the Round of 32
Rennes played Spanish club Real Bettis during the Round of 32. They entered as the unseeded club, so they hosted leg one of the matchup. They scored early, and were up 2-0 on the favored Real Betis ten minutes into the match. They even led 3-1 at half, and their chances of advancing were improving… only for them to surrender to second-half goals – including the equalizer in the 90th minute – and leave France with a 3-3 draw, while also surrendering three away goals.
This led Real Betis to become even more favored, heading into a home game in Spain. Rennes did something in Spain that they couldn’t do at home, holding on to win 3-1 to advance 6-4 on aggregate. They were among the biggest underdogs to come through in the Round of 32, though that didn’t help their chances (on paper) in this one (more on this in a minute).
Arsenal had a much more difficult journey to the Round of 16 than expected. When they were drawn against BATE Borisov, they were given an 83% chance of advancing to the Round of 16. They then promptly traveled to Belarus and lost 1-0, though they were still favorites with a home match looming in leg two. They won 3-0 at Emirates Stadium, advancing 3-1 on aggregate.
What the Experts are Saying
Arsenal enters leg one of this matchup as overwhelming favorites, both in the round and the tournament overall. Our friends at FiveThirtyEight gives Arsenal a 75% chance to advance through to the quarterfinals, and an 11% chance to win the Europa League.
Rennes has overcome long odds before (see the last round), but this draw definitely didn’t help. They have the third-worst chance of advancing to the quarterfinals, though they do have an outside chance of winning the title according to the same odds. And they do host the first match (after a mix up with the draw), giving them an opportunity to get a leg up with a quick turnaround before leg two next week.
What We’re Thinking
Yet… the same simulations that make Arsenal a large favorite also give them a 52% chance of winning the match in France on Thursday, and another 25% chance for that match to end in a draw. Rennes has also struggled for most of their domestic season, while Arsenal has spent all but the opening weeks in the top five of the Premier League. Arsenal is simply the better squad, and I expect them to easily win this first game and the round overall.
Until next time…