Several European heavyweights feature in the knockout phase
The UEFA Europa League returns after the winter break. Action resumes in the knockout round playoffs of the competition. Third-place UEFA Champions League (UCL)) teams have joined clubs that advanced from the group stages. Barcelona, RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund and Atalanta are the new additions to the competition. These teams have been joined by four others who failed to advance from their respective UCL groups. They now enter the Europa League from the knockout phase onward.
The UEFA Europa League knockout round playoffs will feature some of the biggest clubs in world football. This adds further star power to an already competitive tournament. Holders Villarreal face Juventus in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. So, new champions will be crowned this season.
Here are the top five matches to watch in the UEFA Europa League knockout round playoffs.
5. Borussia Dortmund Vs Rangers
This clash sees two of the most attacking teams face each other. Both sides are known for their goalscoring exploits. Borussia Dortmund finished third in UCL Group C. Rangers advanced after a second-place finish in Group B, behind Lyon.
Borussia Dortmund have had an underwhelming domestic season. The Black and Yellow’s trail in the league and have been knocked out from the DFB Pokal. This competition is Marco Rose’s team’s chance to win silverware.
Scottish side Rangers are eying a treble win. Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team are in a strong position in domestic competitions. They are looking forward to making a huge impression in the Europa League as well.
4. Porto Vs Lazio
Former champions Porto are looking for redemption in the Europa League. The Portuguese outfit failed to advance from their UEFA Champions League group. They will now aim to go much further in the Europa League. Porto have won the competition twice. Their first win came in 2003-04 and the second in 2010-11.
Lazio have had a decent season so far. They are fighting for European places in the Italian league. Eyeing trophies, the Europa League provides Maurizio Sarri’s team an opportunity to achieve that. Sarri won the competition as a Chelsea manager in 2018-19. The tactician is now aiming to lead his new team to European glory.
3. RB Leipzig Vs Real Sociedad
Two of the competition’s underdogs face each other in this fixture. Both the teams have been inconsistent this season. But, they have the quality to play some scintillating football.
RB Leipzig have a new manager at the helm. Domenico Tedesco took over the reins from Jesse Marsch. The Bundesliga side dropped down from the Champions League. They are fighting for a European spot in the league.
Real Sociedad finished second in their group, behind AS Monaco. Though Imanol Alguacil’s side struggled in the competition, they have managed to advance. The Spanish side are in good form at the moment. They will look to continue their journey in the competition.
2. Sevilla Vs Dinamo Zagreb
Sevilla enter the competition after a disappointing UCL campaign. However, they are the record Europa League champions. The Andalusian side have won the competition six times. Julien Loputegui’s team will look to add another accolade to their trophy cabinet. They are also challenging for the La Liga title.
Dinamo Zagreb are again dominating their domestic league. The team looks set for another league title. Zeljko Kopic’s team finished second in their Europa League group behind West Ham. The Croatian side have played free-flowing football. Zagreb will provide a stern test to the record winners.
1. Barcelona Vs Napoli
Barcelona are in a re-building phase. This competition gives them an opportunity to win a maiden title under Xavi. The Catalan giants finished third in their UCL group, behind Bayern Munich and Benfica. Ronald Koeman coached the team on most occasions in the competition. Notably, Barcelona will be playing their first Europa League match since 2004.
Napoli have been Europa League regulars in recent years. They finished second in group C this season. The Italians are in great form at the moment. Luciano Spaletti’s team are on a four-game unbeaten run. The Naples-based club are also mounting a Serie A title challenge.