Europa League: Round of 32 Draw (2021)

Europa League is taking a break until February now that the group stage is complete. But before it does, they needed to determine the pairings for the next round of matches.

The draw took place on 14 December at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. 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 18 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 Roma (ITA) Young Boys (SUI)
B Arsenal (ENG) Molde (NOR)
C Bayer Leverkusen (GER) Slavia Prague (CZE)
D Rangers (SCO) Benfica (POR)
E PSV Eindhoven (NED) Granada (ESP)
F Napoli (ITA) Real Sociedad (ESP)
G Leicester City (ENG) Braga (POR)
H Milan (ITA) Lille (FRA)
I Villarreal (ESP) Maccabi Tel Aviv (ISR)
J Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) Antwerp (BEL)
K Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) Wolfsberger AC (AUT)
L 1899 Hoffenheim (GER) Red Star Belgrade (SRB)

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
1 Manchester United (ENG) 9
2 Club Brugge (BEL) 8
3 Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) 8
4 Ajax (NED) 7
5 Krasnodar (RUS) 5
6 Red Bull Salzburg (AUT) 4
7 Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) 4
8 Olympiacos (GRE) 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 18 February.

Tournament Favorites

There are four clubs that have at least an 8% chance of winning the tournament, at least according to FiveThirtyEight. English clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United lead the way at 9%. The Spurs needed a win on Matchday 6 over Antwerp to claim Group J, while Manchester United needed a win against RB Leipzig in the Champions League to stay alive in that tournament. The Spurs won, while United lost, clinching the top seed in among the clubs coming over from Champions League. Both clubs have previously won the tournament, though it’s been a while since the Spurs won (1984). Manchester United’s win is more recent, winning in 2017.

Checking in with an 8% chance to win are two other group winners. Bayer Leverkusen easily won Group C, losing only once and having a +13 goal differential. Napoli, on the other hand, settled into the Group G lead, concluding the group stage with two consecutive draws, including against their runners-up Real Sociedad.

Round of 32 Favorites

Five clubs have greater than a 75% chance of advancing through to the Round of 16. Three of those clubs are among the favorites overall – Tottenham Hotspur (91%), Napoli (79%), and Bayer Leverkusen (75%) – are expected to advance pretty handily.

AC Milan (80%) and Rangers (79%) are the other two clubs with more than a three-quarters chance to advance for the moment, and both clubs were group winners in Europa League. Rangers were unbeaten in the group stage (4-2-0), with both draws against second place Benfica. AC Milan, on the other hand, took ownership of Group H on Matchday 6, winning their match against Sparta Prague while Lille lost to Celtic.

Three other clubs have greater than a 70% chance of advancing to the Round of 16. Two of those clubs – Leicester City (74%) and AS Roma (73%) – were both group winners from Europa League, while Shakhtar Donetsk (70%) was a seeded third-place finisher from Champions League. They are most likely favored due to being the home club in the second leg, but they also had strong performances in the past round.

The Longshot

The biggest longshot in the tournament, Wolfsberger AC, has actually been quite surprising to this point in the tournament, though a draw against the favored Spurs seems to spell an end to their run. They enter the knockout stages as the lowest ranked Europa League club per FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index (SPI), checking in at 50.7, while the Spurs check-in over 30 points higher at 81.6.

Nevertheless, Wolfsberger AC had a fairly strong showing in the group stage. They finished with a 3-1-2 record, and both losses were to the club that finished ahead of them, Dinamo Zagreb. But they also only finished with a +1 goal differential, meaning they were +5 against the other two clubs in the group. Does this mean they have a chance against the Spurs? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

In Conclusion

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 18 February, while Team 2 plays host in the second leg on 25 February (with the exception of Tottenham Hotspur v Wolfsberger AC, which will be played on 24 February):

Team 1 Team 2
Wolfsberger AC Tottenham Hotspur
Dynamo Kyiv Club Brugge
Real Sociedad Manchester United
Benfica Arsenal
Red Star Belgrade AC Milan
Antwerp Rangers
Slavia Prague Leicester City
Red Bull Salzburg Villarreal
Braga Roma
Krasnodar Dinamo Zagreb
Young Boys Bayer Leverkusen
Molde 1899 Hoffenheim
Granada Napoli
Maccabi Tel Aviv Shakhtar Donetsk
Lille Ajax
Olympiacos PSV Eindhoven

Until next time…

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