There are some interesting ties here, although there aren’t that many major clashes (this is the worse of the two European competitions after all)
Tie 1 – Athletic Bilbao (Spain) vs APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
Bilbao surprisingly finished second in Group F behind Genk, but boast the joint top scorer in Aritz Aduriz – who is the only player to score 5 goals in one Europa League game!
APOEL won an easy group in Group B – but did suffer two away defeats to FC Astana and BSC Young Boys. A trip to Bilbao will be much tougher than either of those games were.
Who will go through? Athletic Bilbao should have too much quality for their Cypriot opponents. Athletic Bilbao to go through
Tie 2 – Legia Warsaw (Poland) vs AFC Ajax (Netherlands)
Legia’s Champions League campaign was one of the most memorable, as they managed to finish a surprise third in Group F ahead of Sporting Lisbon. Having put 7 goals past Real Madrid (3-3 draw) and Borussia Dortmund (that 8-4 loss), it’s clear that Legia have good entertainment value, and could actually have a decent European run.
Ajax did manage to win their group whilst remaining undefeated, but are struggling to exert any dominance in the Netherlands, and are back to selling their best youngsters. They still retain a threat, but not enough to scare the top teams in this competition.
Who will go through? Legia’s better experiences this season should see them through. Ajax are doing OK – nothing special right now. Legia Warsaw to go through.
Tie 3 – Anderlecht (Belgium) vs Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Anderlecht did well to get through a close group containing Saint-Étienne and Mainz, which shows that they’ve managed to build a good squad – indeed a few of their players could well be on the move in the transfer window. They didn’t keep a clean sheet in the group stage, but still ended up with a goal difference of +8!
Zenit wasted their chance to gain maximum points in their group by suffering a surprise defeat to AZ Alkmaar. Up until that point they had completely dominated their group, and did still finish 7 points clear at the top of Group D – they’re a candidate to go far in this competition.
Who will go through? It will be a good test for Anderlecht, but Zenit look ready to make a big impact in Europe. Zenit St. Petersburg to go through
Tie 4 – Astra Giurgiu (Romania) vs Genk (Belgium)
Astra came second in their group without ever really threatening the winners Roma. Their big problem is clearly their home form – they haven’t won any of the 4 games they have played in Romania so far this season in the Europa League (inc. qualifying rounds).
Genk were one of the surprise packages this season, as they topped a tough group (Group F) ahead of Athletic Bilbao and Sassuolo. This was mostly due to the performances (and goals) from their teen sensation Leon Bailey.
Who will go through? Even if they lose Bailey, Genk should have enough about them. Genk to go through.
Tie 5 – Manchester United (England) vs Saint-Étienne (France)
Manchester United are just beginning to get a decent run of form going, but the Europa League is still their best shot at qualifying for the Champions league next season. Having chosen to prioritise the Premier League during the group stage, United finished 2nd behind Fenerbahce in Group A. You would think that they will play full strength from here on though.
Saint-Étienne aren’t the easiest of opposition though, as they are a competitive side in Ligue 1 and won their group – which contained Anderlecht and Mainz – whilst staying unbeaten. And there’s the small matter of the Pogba brothers facing off.
Who will go through? Provided they do play their strongest side, there’s only one outcome. Manchester United to go through.
Tie 6 – Villarreal (Spain) vs Roma (Italy)
Probably the tie of the round.
Villarreal are going well in La Liga, currently sitting in 4th following a great win against Atlético Madrid. However, they underestimated their group a bit by rotating a fair amount. As a result of this, they came 2nd to Osmanlispor.
Roma are doing well in Serie A and have taken up their customary position just behind Juventus. They were unbeaten in their group, albeit with 3 draws. They have one of the best squads in the Europa League and are one of the favourites to win it.
Who will go through? A really tough one to call, so it goes down to squad depth. Only one winner there. Roma to go through
Tie 7 – Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria) vs FC Copenhagen (Denmark)
Ludogorets provided a decent account of themselves in Group A of the Champions League, sealing third place with a deserved draw against PSG. A hard working side, they tend to save their best performances for the big games.
FC Copenhagen are another side coming from the Champions League – third in Group G for them. They were distinctly average, showing the lack of strength outside the top leagues.
Who will go through? Ludogorets have more European experience recently, and I think it will show here. Ludogorets to go through.
Tie 8 – Celta Vigo (Spain) vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Celta Vigo have a solid squad, but were largely underwhelming in their group, finishing 5 points behind Ajax. They had disciplinary problems as well, having 2 red cards already. They’re also struggling a bit domestically – in the bottom half at time of writing.
Shakhtar were the only side to end the group stage with a 100% record, and hit 21 goals in their 6 games – just one off the record set by Napoli. Having hit at least 4 goals in 4 of their games, it’s clear Shakhtar will be a threat this season.
Who will go through? Celta will provide a big test of Shakhtars credentials, with the Ukrainian side the scalp to claim. Celta are a very capable side though, so I’ll back them to pull it off. Celta to go through.
Tie 9 – Olympiakos (Greece) vs Osmanlispor (Turkey)
Olympiakos could only manage 2nd place in what was possibly the easiest group – Group B. They only got through by virtue of a superior head to head record against Young Boys of Switzerland, a poor show by the Greek side.
Osmanlispor won Group L by a point ahead of Villarreal. That was a great result for the relatively unknown Turkish side, and they will seek to continue with their great run. Their stand out result was easily a 2-1 win in Villarreal – but they lost both of their other away games – to Steaua Bucharest and FC Zurich.
Who will go through? Olympiakos must surely get better, but Osmanlispor are enjoying a good campaign and have no pressure on their shoulder’s. Osmanlispor to go through.
Tie 10 – Gent (Belgium) vs Tottenham Hotspur (England)
Gent came second to the rampant Shakhtar Donetsk in Group H, but the gulf in class was apparent with the Belgian side conceding 5 goals in both games against their Ukrainian opponents. They also had a curious habit of getting the same result in each of their games against the same opponents in their group – 2 defeats to Shakhtar, 2 draws with Braga and 2 wins against Konyaspor!
Tottenham will be disappointed to find themselves back in the Europa League, with the ‘Wembley Curse’ hitting them hard in what had been a fairly easily Champions League group. They did finally break the curse against CSKA Moscow to ensure they finished third in Group E, and have the squad to do well in the Europa League.
Who will go through? Like Man United, this will most likely be Spurs’ best shot at getting Champions League football next season, so they should win this easily. Spurs to go through.
Tie 11 – Rostov (Russia) vs Sparta Prague (Czech Republic)
Rostov, along with Legia, were the surprise package of the Champions League – claiming an astonishing 3-2 win over the mighty Bayern Munich on their way to 3rd in Group D in their first ever European campaign.
Sparta Prague were the unexpected winners of Group K ahead of better teams like Southampton and Inter Milan. Easily the best team in the Czech Republic, they can rest players if needed to help them out in Europe.
Who will go through? A real underdogs story here, and Rostov may feel confident but I can see Sparta winning. Sparta Prague to go through.
Tie 12 – FC Krasnodar (Russia) vs Fenerbahce (Turkey)
Krasnodar qualified from Group I on head to head record ahead of RB Salzburg – and have the proud record of being the only side to hit 5 goals past surprise Ligue 1 leaders Nice so far this season! However, they only scored 3 goals in the other 5 games in the group stage – so they’re a bit hit and miss, and not the best defensively with 8 conceded in the group.
Fenerbahce managed to win Group A ahead of Man United, but never completely convinced with a proper big win that would be expected with the talent in their squad. Add to that the fact that they completely collapsed to Uniteds first team (4-1 defeat), and it’s hard to see them progressing far before they get caught out.
Who will go through? Fenerbahce have enough to see off the Russian side. Fenerbahce to go through.
Tie 13 – Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany) vs Fiorentina (Italy)
Another good tie, but both of these sides are struggling a bit domestically.
Borussia Mönchengladbach struggled to a third place finish in Group C of the Champions League, but looked completely out of their depth. The Europa League should be more to their level, but having such a tough tie straight away doesn’t help the transition. Their problem is their away form – Barcelona and Man City completely rolled them over (4-0 defeats away to both).
Fiorentina were comfortably the best side in Group J, scoring more than twice as many goals as any of the other sides in that group. Their problem is the fact that they were expected to do that well – PAOK, Qarabag and Slovan Liberec were hardly the most challenging of opponents, so Mönchengladbach represents a significant step up in difficulty.
Who will go through? The German side’s appalling away record means I can only see them exiting at this stage. Fiorentina to go through.
Tie 14 – AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) vs Olympique Lyonnais (France)
AZ claimed a shock last matchday victory over the previously rampant Zenit side in Group D – they are also one of the lowest scoring sides left, having managed just 6 goals in their 6 games.
Lyon finished third in Group H of the Champions League, and are therefore responsible for making sure Sevilla couldn’t defend their crown – although Lyon did put in an astonishing amount of effort into their last game of the group stage, they should be worried about the inability to convert chances into goals.
Who will go through? Lyon might struggle to convert chances at the higher level, but should have the firepower to get through to around the quarter finals. Lyon to go through.
Tie 15 – Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Israel) vs Besiktas (Turkey)
Hapoel Be’er Sheva pipped Southampton to second place in Group K. An emerging regular in European football group stages in recent seasons, they shouldn’t be underestimated – A double win against Inter is no mean feat, and they showed great spirit to earn the result they needed at Southampton on Matchday 6.
Besiktas had a topsy turvy ride in Group B of the Champions League – after getting themselves back in with a chance of going through after a 3-3 draw with Napoli, they messed up in the biggest way possible with a calamitous 6-0 defeat in Kyiv. They’ll be keen to prove that was a blip by doing well in the Europa League.
Who will go through? The two red cards carried over from the Kyiv game could cause problems for the Turkish side, but they have a good squad. Besiktas to go through.
Tie 16 – PAOK FC (Greece) vs Schalke 04 (Germany)
PAOK did well to emerge as the best of the rest behind Fiorentina in Group I – even managing to take a win off of the Italians (albeit they did lose both games to Qarabag as well). A solid outfit, but not one for entertainment – just 13 goals witnessed in their 6 games.
Schalke were one of three teams on maximum points after 5 matchdays – and like Zenit, they proceeded to lose their final game. However, they did end with over double the points of second placed FC Krasnodar in Group I – and conceded only 3 goals in the group stage, which was mostly played through domestic uncertainty, and a squad ravaging injury crisis.
Who will go through? Schalke should be back to a full strength squad by the time this comes around. At full strength, PAOK shouldn’t be a threat. Schalke to go through.