The Europa League begins the knockout phase today, with the Round of 32 kicking off around Europe this afternoon. We won’t be covering all 16 matches, but 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. And with the unseeded clubs playing host in this opening leg, we could have some surprise club that seemingly improve their odds before next week’s concluding leg.
How They Got Here
Olympiacos finished second in last season’s Superleague Greece, which earned them a trip to the second qualifying round of Champions League. They were undefeated through the qualifying rounds, compiling a 5-1-0 record by a combined score of 13-1 over Viktoria Plzeň, İstanbul Başakşehir, and Krasnodar. They did not have as much success in the group stage, finishing a distant third in Group B behind Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur, but still qualified for the Europa League knockout phase as the second-worst third-place club, just ahead of Club Brugge.
Arsenal finished fifth, a point behind the aforementioned Spurs in last season’s Premier League, just missing on a berth in Champions League. They instead went straight to Europa League’s group stage, winning Group F ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt. After winning their first three group stage games, they went 0-2-1 down the back stretch, needing a loss by Eintracht on Matchday 6 to escape with the group win and a seeded position in the Round of 32.
Olympiacos is currently leading Superleague Greece, having not lost a match through 24 matches (18-6-0). They have already qualified for the “Championship round” which will determine final placement, and should find themselves playing in UEFA again next season, with only the tournament left to be determined.
Arsenal, on the other hand, is currently mid-table in the Premier League, two points behind Wolverhampton Wanderers in what is likely the last qualifying spot for Europe League next season. Though they have lost only six times this season, they lead the league in draws with 13, failing to find three points against some lesser competition, including a couple of matches where their opponents forced a draw with late goals. With 12 matches left, as well as the FA Cup, they aren’t quite eliminated from UEFA competitions next season, but they need to turn it around sooner rather than later.
Never Tell Me the Odds
According to our friends at FiveThirtyEight, this is the closest matchup of the round, and it is pretty much a coin toss as to who will advance, with Olympiacos the slight favorite at 51%. Both clubs also have a 4% chance of winning the whole thing, but they would have to get past each other to do so. As the host tonight, Olympiacos is favored to win 46% of the time, but expect a lively match regardless, with next week’s match at Emirates Stadium likely being a barnburner as well.
Will we see another all England final this season? Arsenal played in the Europa League title match last season, losing to Chelsea and missing out on a trip to Champions League. There are still a lot of matches to be played, and we’ll be back this weekend with a look of how it all went down today and what it could mean for the rest of the tournament going forward. All it takes is one surprising result for chaos to reign, especially in Europa League, which makes it one of the most unpredictable tournaments in the world.
Until next time…