With the group stages concluded for both the 2015/16 Europa League and Champions League tournaments, UEFA announced the round of 32 draw for the UEL on Monday, December 14th. In addition to top group stage contenders from earlier in the Europa League (like Napoli, Rapid Wien, and Tottenham Hotspur), the round of 32 will also include the third-placers from the Champions League (including football clubs like Manchester United, Olympiacos, and Bayer Leverkusen).
The combinatory nature of the Europa League knockout stage always serves to inject some extra excitement into the proceedings. However, it also serves to make the round of 32 especially harder to predict. With that in mind, we are taking a look at the draw for the round of 32 and trying to decipher which teams will progress and which teams won't.
The Champions League Teams
Eight of the 32 teams drawn into the next round of the Europa League come from the Champions League. These teams are the wildcard draws. On one hand, they weren't strong enough or consistent enough to make it into the next phase of the Champions League. On the other hand, they were strong enough to qualify for the UCL-something that gives them all a leg up over the other soccer clubs that have already been competing in the UEL.
This year, the eight teams entering the Europa League following third-place finishes in the UCL group stage are Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester United, Galatasaray, Sevilla, Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Porto, and Valencia. Many of these soccer squads only missed out on UCL advancement by razor-thin margins, so they all have to be considered threats to their UEL opponents.
The Champions League teams were drawn into the Europa League's round of 32 as follows:
- Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Schalke 04
- Manchester United vs. Midtjylland
- Galatasaray vs. Lazio
- Sevilla vs. Molde
- Bayer Leverkusen vs. Sporting CP
- Olympiacos vs. Anderlecht
- Porto vs. Borussia Dortmund
- Valencia vs. Rapid Wien
If you are hoping for some good competition in the round of 32, the good news is that very few of these match-ups seem like foregone conclusions. Manchester United seem likely to advance. Even despite looking weaker than usual over the past few weeks, the Red Devils are still heavyweights, and Midtjylland were, if anything, inconsistent in the UEL group stage. Sevilla also seem a safe bet, if only because the Spanish football club have won two UEL titles running and are shooting for a third.
The rest of the matches, though, are tough. Lazio escaped the group stage undefeated, while Galatasaray only won a single game in the Champions League; Borussia Dortmund were weak last season, but are back in-form this season and will be a big hurdle for Porto to clear; and Rapid Wien are coming into the knockouts with one of the best records (five wins and one loss) of the group stage.
Europa League Match-Ups
The remaining eight match-ups for the round of 32 will be made up entirely of Europa League group stage participants. These draws include the following:
- Fiorentina vs. Tottenham Hotspur
- Fenerbahce vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
- Augsburg vs. Liverpool
- Sparta Prague vs. Krasnodar
- Sion vs. Braga
- Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
- Villarreal vs. Napoli
- Saint-Etienne vs. Basel
If there's a frontrunner in this bunch, it's Napoli. The Italian soccer squad managed a perfect six-win record in the group stage, have been solid all season in the Serie A, and went all the way to the semifinals last season. ACF Fiorentina also went to the semifinals this past spring and are doing even better than Napoli in the domestic division. In other words, Italy has some good prospects in the race for this year's Europa League.
The Liverpool/Augsburg match-up will be one to watch as well. Liverpool have made big strides toward improvement since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp and made it through the groups undefeated-albeit with two wins and four draws. Augsburg, though, have one of the top scorers in the tournament at the moment: Raul Bobadilla, who's netted six goals in 371 minutes of play. Athletic Bilbao have the other top scorer, Aritz Anduriz, who has scored six goals in 387 minutes.
Which round of 32 match-ups are you looking forward to seeing, and which teams will you be supporting? Visit Soccer Box to pick up a jersey for your favorite UEL football club, be it a Manchester United shirt 2015/16 or a Napoli training top!