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, and Rangers have officially punched their ticket, the other 11 spots remain mostly up for grabs.
Our next preview features another club from Portugal, in this case Porto, playing host to Bayer Leverkusen of Germany. The match kicks off from Estádio do Dragão in Porto at 6:55pm CET (12:55pm EST).
How They Got Here
Porto finished second behind Benfica in the Portuguese Primeira Ligue last season, earning a spot in the Champions League third qualifying round. There, they lost to Krasnodar on the away goal tiebreaker, and ended up in the group stage of Europa League, drawn into Group G. They clinched first place in the group with a win on Matchday 6 against Feyenoord thanks to a draw between Rangers and Young Boys. They weren’t terribly dominant, but they won when they had to and ended seeded in the Round of 32 draw.
Bayer Leverkusen earned a spot in the Champions League group stage after finishing fourth in the Bundesliga last season. They were drawn into Group D behind Juventus and Atlético Madrid, finishing third and earning a transfer to Europa League as an unseeded club.
During leg one, in a match played BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany, Bayer Leverkusen started the scoring in the first half in the 29th minute, and took that lead into the break. They added a second goal on a penalty kick 12 minutes into the second half, and seemed on their way to an easy victory. However, Porto got one back in the 73rd minute, but was unable to equalize, allowing the hosts to leave with a 2-1 victory.
Porto is again sitting in second place behind Benfica in the Primeira Ligue, distantly ahead of third place Braga with 12 matches remaining. They have lost twice this season, and if not for draws (on the road) against Marítimo and Belenenses late in 2019, they would be ahead of the three loss Benfica.
Bayer Leverkusen is currently in 5th place in Bundesliga, tied on points but behind on goal differential to Borussia Mönchengladbach with 11 matches remaining. They are currently in position to qualify for Europa League’s group stage next season, but would likely like to move up at least one spot and end up back in Champions League next season.
Never Tell Me the Odds
According to our friends at FiveThirtyEight, Leverkusen is expected to advance to the Round of 16, doing so in 68% of their simulations. However, as the home club, Porto is favored in the leg two match, winning 40% of simulations. This makes the matchup a little closer to a coin flip, as Porto scored one goal last week to enter the leg with an away goal advantage should the aggregate score dictate the need to go to the tiebreaker.
Both these clubs have won Europa League in the past, though it’s been much longer for Leverkusen (1989) than for Porto (2011). But only one club can advance to the Round of 16 in this matchup, and my money is always on the German club in a matchup such as this. But don’t take my word for it; they play the matches for a reason, and while Leverkusen is favored to come out on top of the matchup, Porto has lost much less this season. It should be fun, regardless.
Until next time…