By Brian Beard | 13 DEC 2021
If there were technical issues with the UEFA Champions League draw let`s try and make sense of the UEFA Europa League draw. The first legs of the knock-out round ties are to be staged on February 17th with the second legs a week later. The winners of the eight ties will join the eight UEFA Europa League group winners in the round of 16. The losers will be out, with me so far?
Leipzig have ploughed on with their progress in European football in the last three seasons but will only get their true reward when they make their mark with a European trophy or the Bundesliga title. But despite their progress domestically, second behind Bayern Munich when this draw was made, they will find tough opposition in Real Sociedad, who are on the heels of the top four in Spain.
Yussef Poulsen is RB`s danger man in a team that doesn`t really have star players. They are a good, efficient unit with a very good work ethic and should prevail in this tie,
This is a dream draw for Rangers that could turn into a nightmare and not just because of the presence of Erling Halland in the Dortmund ranks. There`s also Jude Bellingham, Marco Reus, one of the most underrated midfielders in Europe plus the immense Max Hummels. It`s this kind of pairing that underlines the vast chasm between SPL and other European leagues.
Dortmund to qualify.
Last season Zenit reached the UCL group stage whilst Betis have reached this stage of the Europa League with a perfectly balanced record of 12 goals scored and 12 conceded.
Zenit showed their mettle by holding Chelsea to a 3-3 draw just a few weeks ago having lost narrowly, 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Matchday 1. How Zenit play after a three month winter-break will go a long way to determine who wins this one.
I think the odds marginally favour Betis who have broken into the top four in La Liga.
How strange to see Barca in this competition, where they are the highest UEFA ranked side, 7th, but anyone expecting a walkover for the Catalan outfit better think again. This is not the Barca the entire football world fell in love with. This is a club in a turmoil of its own making, minus Messi, and struggling under a new coach, club legend Xavi. Adrift of long-term rivals Real by a full 18 points they need to win this competition or endure next season without European football as they are unlikely to qualify via La Liga.
Napoli currently have the best defence in Italy which says it all and in Kalidou Koulibaly they have one of the most sought after defenders in world football.
I am going for a resurgent Napoli to triumph over a struggling Barca
Porto have a great European pedigree but it is a decade since they lifted this trophy. Last season they went out of the UCL to eventual winners Chelsea but domestically this campaign they are, nothing new here, level pegging with traditional rivals Sporting, both unbeaten in the Primeira League. You have to go back even further for Lazio`s best European showing, UEFA Cup runners-up in 1998.
Porto`s best known player is the legendary Pepe, 138 years old, sorry, 38 years old and still has a nasty trick or several at his beck and call not to mention a plethora of trophies with Porto, Real Madrid and Portugal.
Porto should progress.
Atalanta continue to win friends and impress with their football and are still building on their astounding 4-1 aggregate win over Real Madrid in reaching the UCL round of 16 last season. They thoroughly deserve their current UEFA ranking of 25, 13 ahead of Olympiacos and are hot on the heels of the two Milan clubs in Serie A, three points shy of Inter who lead. Olympiacos are streets ahead of the Greek Super League and will provide a stiff test but I take Atalanta to progress.
Sevilla wrote the book and have several `t` shirts when it comes to this competition, seven wins including three in a row between 2014 and 2016 and last season they continued their climb up the European ladder by reaching the last 16 of the UCL only going out 5-4 on aggregate to Dortmund. They should, as a side ranked 11 by UEFA, have too much for Dinamo Zagreb who did well to reach the last 16 of this competition last season.
Sevilla to prevail
It`s doubtful if Sheriff will ever surpass their 2-1 win at Real Madid just three months ago but it does add gravitas to the saying `every dog will have its day.` And as Moldovan league leaders they are on course for another tilt at European club football`s top prize, next season. They continue their progress and rightly see the Europa League as another step up the Euro ladder.
In 2011 Braga were runners-up in this competition and are pushing the usual suspects in the Portuguese League to claim a UCL place next season. That is their best route as winning this competition is probably beyond them.
Sheriff to go through
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association