The Europa League concludes its brief Round of 32 this week. We won’t be covering all 16 matches, but we will be highlighting a few matchups that are close – at least on paper – and could shuffle up the favorites list heading into 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. While four clubs – including favorite Sevilla – have all but clinched a spot in the next round, the other 12 spots remain mostly up for grabs.
Up first for our previews this week is the lone match on Wednesday (thanks to travel considerations), with Braga playing host to Rangers. The match kicks off from Estádio Municipal in Braga, Portugal at 6pm CET (12pm EST).
How They Got Here
Braga finished 4th in Portugal’s Primeira Ligue, clinching a spot in this season’s Europa League third qualifying round. After defeating Brøndby and Spartak Moscow in the qualification rounds, they were drawn into Group K, which they won over Wolverhampton Wanderers while going 4-2-0.
Rangers, on the other hand, were the second place finisher in the Scottish Premiership, which placed them in the first qualifying round. They went 6-2-0 during qualification, with a +17 goal differential, and then finished second in Group G behind Porto.
Braga is currently in (a distant) third place in Primeira Ligue, which would find them back in Europa League next season. They are on their second manager this season after hiring Rúben Amorim after sacking Ricardo Sá Pinto back in December.
Rangers are currently in second place, again looking up the Scottish Premiership table at Celtic, who are ahead by 12 points. Two of their three losses in Scotland have come on the road, however, which doesn’t bode well for this match to be played in Portugal (though Rangers are currently 2-4-1 on the road in Europa League).
Never Tell Me the Odds
According to our friends at FiveThirtyEight, this match is a toss-up as to who will advance to the Round of 16. As the home club, Braga has the advantage in the match, winning in 52% of simulations. They also have a slight advantage thanks to the two goals they scored on the road in leg one. Rangers have not reached the Round of 16 since the 2010-11 season, and would probably like to do so again.
Can the Scottish club hold on and advance, or will Braga take advantage of the home pitch and those two away goals to come out on top? As I said, it’s down to a coin toss as to who will advance (at least on paper), so expect an exciting match between the two clubs that combined for five goals just six days ago. Whoever scores first might just win this one, so be sure to tune in early!
Until next time…