Europa League: Round of 16 Preview
By Harry Doel
On Thursday the Europa League round of 16 takes place with eight fantastic fixtures including a heavyweight tie at Old Trafford as Milan take on Manchester United and Arsenal look to avenge last year’s round of 32 defeat when they face Olympiakos.
In the earlier kick offs Ajax host Swiss side Young Boys, who will be competing in the Europa league last 16 for the first time in their history. Ajax who won UEFA’s secondary competition in 1992 defeated Lille 4-2 on aggregate in the last round, Young Boys on the other hand were shock victors over German giants Bayer Leverkusen who they emphatically defeated 6-3 over two legs.
Also, in the early fixtures Ukrainian premier league leaders Dynamo Kyiv host Villarreal. Kyiv fell into the Europa League after finishing third in a Champions League group including Juventus and Barcelona, this set them up to face Club Brugge in the round of 32 who the narrowly edged past 2-1 on aggregate. Villarreal on the other hand are yet to lose a single game in the Europa League and in the last round put RB Salzburg to the sword defeating them 4-1 overall.
Steven Gerrard’s freshly crowned Scottish champions Rangers will play their first game since being crowned domestic champions when they travel to the Czech Republic to face Slavia Praha. Rangers put on one of the most outstanding performances in the round of 32 beating Royal Antwerp 9-5 over two legs.
Their opponents Slavia Praha however put on one of the biggest shocks going to Leicester and defeating the Premier League side 2-0 to reach the round of 16.
The last of the early kick offs sees two European giants face off when Manchester United take on AC Milan. After their comprehensive 4-0 aggregate win over Real Sociedad, the 2017 champions were drawn against Milan, who narrowly avoided exit as the crawled through on away goals against Red Star Belgrade. This game will be AC’s twelfth game in this seasons Europa League, and despite this hectic schedule they currently sit in 2nd in the Serie A. United on the other hand will be playing their third game in the Europa League as they fell into the competition as a result of coming third in their champions’ league group which featured PSG and RB Leipzig.
In the later kick offs 2009 winners Shakhtar Donetsk travel to Rome to take on Italian giants Roma. Shakhtar will be looking to progress into the latter stages and go two better than last season where they lost to Inter Milan in the Semi-finals. The Italians fell at this stage last season but after a convincing group win and a 5-1 aggregate win over Braga the Roma will certainly fell like they can improve on last year’s performance. In six previous fixtures Shakhtar have been the more successful winning 4 and losing two to the Italians.
Elsewhere in the later games European first timers Granada from Spain fresh off their elimination of Napoli take on Molde who play at this stage for the first time in their history.
In their debut season the Spanish side finished in second in a competitive group and then shockingly knocked out Napoli 3-2 over two legs.
Molde just like their opponents play their first game at this stage in what has been a successful run thus far which includes finishing runners up in a group including Arsenal and then defeating Hoffenheim 5-3 over two ties.
In North London two-time winners Tottenham Hotspur face Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. The 2019 Champions League finalist emphatically defeated Austrian opponents Wolfsberger 8-1 in the last round, whereas opponents Zagreb defeated Russian opponents Krasnodar 4-2 over two legs.
In order to get here both teams won their groups Zagreb topping a group including renowned European clubs such as CSKA Moscow and Feyenoord with 14 points and Tottenham narrowly winning their group with 13 points.
These two sides met in the UEFA Cup back in 2009 Tottenham were victorious at White Hart Lane that evening, winning 4-0 courtesy of a Tom Huddlestone goal and a Darren Bent hattrick.
The late kick-offs are headlined by Arsenal travelling to Greece looking to avenge last years defeat to Olympiakos. When these two sides met in the round of 32 last season, Olympiakos defeated Arsenal on away goals in extra-time overcoming a first leg defeat.
After falling into the Europa League via a 3rd place Champions League finish Olympiakos progressed into the round of 16 defeating PSV Eindhoven 5-4.
Arsenal on the other hand won every group game before drawing 1-1 against Benfica in their first leg, a late surge in the second leg was enough to see the 2019 runners up progress into the round of 16 for the third time in four seasons.