The Europa League Round of 32 draw took place on December 16 at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland. With action in the “junior” tournament on hiatus until February, this is our look at the early favorites for the first round of the knockout phase.
The knockout phase in Europa features 16 more clubs than Champions League, and another round, so they’ll be playing (nearly) weekly matches once play resumes on 20 February.
As a reminder, here’s how the twelve groups were settled during group play:
|Group||Winners (seeded in draw)||Runners-up (unseeded in draw)|
|A||Sevilla (ESP)||APOEL (CYP)|
|B||Malmö FF (SWE)||Copenhagen (DEN)|
|C||Basel (SUI)||Getafe (ESP)|
|D||LASK (AUT)||Sporting CP (POR)|
|E||Celtic (SCO)||CFR Cluj (ROU)|
|F||Arsenal (ENG)||Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)|
|G||Porto (POR)||Rangers (SCO)|
|H||Espanyol (ESP)||Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)|
|I||Gent (BEL)||Wolfsburg (GER)|
|J||İstanbul Başakşehir (TUR)||Roma (ITA)|
|K||Braga (POR)||Wolverhampton Wanderers (ENG)|
|L||Manchester United (ENG)||AZ (NED)|
In addition, the eight third-place teams come over from Champions League to compete, with the top four clubs seeded in the draw. Those eight teams are:
|Seed||Club||CL Group points|
|2||Red Bull Salzburg (AUT)||7|
|3||Inter Milan (ITA)||7|
|5||Bayer Leverkusen (GER)||6|
|6||Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)||6|
|8||Club Brugge (BEL)||3|
This will be the final round of the tournament where clubs from the same association cannot be drawn against each other. Likewise, if they played in the same group during the last round, they also cannot meet again until the quarterfinals. The seeded clubs will host the second match of the upcoming two-leg Round of 32, and the first leg will begin on 20 February 2020.
There are four clubs that have at least an 8% chance of winning the tournament, at least according to FiveThirtyEight. Sevilla and Inter Milan lead the way at 10%. Sevilla has won Europa League a record five times, including three consecutive titles from 2014 to 2016, and their performance this season has been strong. Before losing to APOEL on a meaningless Matchday 6, they were undefeated through five matches of the group stage, surrendering only two goals along the way. Expect more of the same in the knockout round.
Inter is coming off of a third-place finish in the Champions League group stage, with a loss to group winner Barcelona on Matchday 6 preventing their advancement. They struggled a bit during that group stage, losing three times. Inter Milan has three Europa League titles of their own – though none this century – so they are hoping that they can find a way to stay alive in the tournament.
Finally, there are two other clubs tied with an 8% chance – Manchester United and Ajax. Both clubs probably feel that they are “slumming” in Europa League as it is. Both were quarter-finalists in Champions League last year, and Ajax advanced to the semifinals. Both have Europa League titles – with Manchester United (2017) winning more recently than Ajax (1992).
Round of 32 Favorites
Six clubs have greater than a 70% chance of advancing through to the Round of 16. The top two favorites – Sevilla (93%) and Inter Milan (83%) – have the best odds to advance. Right behind is Roma (81%), who has the pleasure of playing Gent, though Gent is the “seeded” club and gets to play host for the second leg. Roma finished second in their Europa League group despite scoring the most goals and having the best goal differential in the group. It’s easy to see why they are favored despite not being the top club of the matchup.
Red Bull Salzburg, Wolfsburg, and Wolverhampton Wanderers are favored about three quarters of the time in their matchups. Only Red Bull Salzburg are in that position with leg two at home. RB Salzburg beat up on Genk during the group stage of Champions League, but could not overcome Liverpool and Napoli to advance to that tournament’s Round of 16. As a reward, they get to meet Eintracht Frankfurt, who limps into this round after a loss to Vitória de Guimarães on Matchday 6 of the group stage.
The biggest longshot in the tournament, CFR Cluj, has actually been quite surprising to this point in the tournament. They enter the knockout stages as the lowest ranked Europa League club per FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI), checking in at 49.6. Their opponent this round, favorite Sevilla, checks in at 80.5 in SPI, so it is easy to see why the Spaniards are the overwhelming favorites.
But CFR Cluj has been anything but a pushover thus far. During the group stage, they finished second behind Celtic in Group E, ahead of much more prominent European clubs Lazio and (to a lesser extent) Rennes. They also fared well in Champions League, nearly reaching the group stage in that tournament before bowing out in the playoff round against Slavia Prague. Overall in Europe this season, they are 7-2-5, which includes a third-round victory over Celtic in Champions League. The Scots got their revenge in winning the group, but I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the plucky Romanian champions against Sevilla just yet.
The Europa League Round of 32 Draw
With an extra round in the knockout stage (as compared to Champions League) and a little more condensed schedule, Europa League has the chance for more weird results. Everything could go “chalk” the first round and see two favorites drawn against each other in the next round, opening up an opportunity for a fringe team to go through.
Here’s the complete matchups for the Round of 32. Team 1 will host the 1st leg on 20 February, while Team 2 plays host in the second leg on 27 February (with the exception of Braga v Rangers, which will be played on 26 February):
|Team 1||Team 2|
|Sporting CP||İstanbul Başakşehir|
|Club Brugge||Manchester United|
|Ludogorets Razgrad||Inter Milan|
|Eintracht Frankfurt||Red Bull Salzburg|
Until next time…