The Europa League Round of 32 marks the point when the quality of football on display begins to match the quantity.
After months of toiling around Europe for points, 24 clubs emerged from the Group Stages to take their place in Monday’s draw (Dec. 16), alongside the eight teams dropping down from the Champions League.
Both the Round of 32 and 16 were drawn in Nyon, producing some mouth-watering contests to look forward to early next year.
The Round of 32 kicks off Feb. 20 before the return fixture one week later, while the Round of 16 will take place on March 13 and 20.
Here’s a look at some early predictions before we delve a little deeper into the draw.
|Europa League: Round of 32 Predictions|
|1st Leg Date, K/O||Fixture||Team Advancing|
|Feb. 20, 17:00 GMT||Anzhi vs. Genk||Genk|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Dynamo Kiev vs. Valencia||Valencia|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||PAOK vs. Benfica||Benfica|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Liberec vs. AZ||AZ|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Chornomorets Odesa vs. Lyon||Lyon|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Dnipro vs. Tottenham||Tottenham|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Juventus vs. Trabzonspor||Juventus|
|Feb. 20, 18:00 GMT||Esbjerg vs. Fiorentina||Fiorentina|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Ajax vs. Salzburg||Ajax|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Basel||Basel|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Porto vs. Eintracht Frankfurt||Porto|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Maribor vs. Sevilla||Sevilla|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Plzen vs. Shakhtar Donetsk||Shakhtar Donetsk|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Real Betis vs. Rubin Kazan||Rubin Kazan|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Swansea vs. Napoli||Napoli|
|Feb. 20, 20:05 GMT||Lazio vs. Ludogorets||Ludogorets|
|Schedule via uefa.com|
|Europa League: Round of 16 Predictions|
|Liberec/AZ vs. Anzhi/Genk||AZ|
|Lazio/Ludogorets vs. Dynamo Kiev/Valencia||Valencia|
|Porto/Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Swansea/Napoli||Napoli|
|Chornomorets Odesa/Lyon vs. Plzen/Shakhtar Donetsk||Shakhtar Donetsk|
|Maribor/Sevilla vs. Real Betis/Rubin Kazan||Sevilla|
|Dnipro/Tottenham vs. PAOK/Benfica||Tottenham|
|Macabbi Tel-Aviv/Basel vs. Ajax/Salzburg||Ajax|
|Juventus/Trabzonspor vs. Esbjerg/Fiorentina||Juventus|
|Schedule via uefa.com|
Tottenham Hotspur and Salzburg, the only two sides with a 100 percent record in the competition, were drawn against Dnipro and Ajax, respectively.
Spurs’ fixture with Dnipro will mark the return of Juande Ramos to White Hart Lane. The Dnipro boss spent less than a year with the North London outfit before being sacked at the beginning of the 2008-09 season when the club sat bottom of the table after eight games.
Speaking after the draw, Ramos told UEFA.com,
“Luck was not with us in this draw. Tottenham are one of the favourites to win the competition. They are a very strong side, but we have to take to the pitch and play with no other thought than to fight for the win over two legs.”
If Spurs are to advance, they will face the winner of PAOK and Benfica in the Round of 16.
Fellow Premier League team Swansea were handed an extremely tough draw. The Welsh side take on Napoli, who became the first side ever to exit the Champions League group stages with 12 points after losing out to Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund.
Swansea, playing in their maiden European competition, will take confidence from their 3-0 victory over Valencia at the Mestalla on Matchday 1, however.
If the Swans can find a way past Rafa Benitez’s side, it won’t get much easier, with the winner of Eintracht Frankfurt and Porto awaiting them in the Round of 16.
Speaking to UEFA.com, Benitez said, “Swansea have made great strides. [Michael] Laudrup is a coach who loves his teams to keep possession. They play brilliant football and have a good squad of players, including Michu.”
Arguably, the tie of the Round of 32 sees Juventus take on Turkish side Trabzonspor.
The Serie A club will have been disappointed with the manner in which they exited the Champions League, but with Turin hosting the Europa League final, The Old Lady have some additional incentive to go the distance.
Mustafa Resit Akcay’s Tranzonspor have been one of the surprises of this year’s tournament. They finished ahead of Lazio in Group J and will be buoyed on by Juventus’ recent defeat to Galatasary, which consigned them to Europa League action.
Trabzonspor president, Ibrahim Ethem Haciosmanoglu, confidently told UEFA.com, “Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League by a Turkish side and we can give them the pleasure of being eliminated by another.”
Another team to impress during the Group Stages was Ludogorets. They finished top of Group B, which on paper looked to be a tough pool.
The Bulgarian side qualified with five wins and a draw, sending well-known clubs PSV and Dinamo Zagreb out of the competition. Their reward is a Round of 16 clash against Lazio.
Elsewhere, Dynamo Kiev were paired off with Valencia, who recently sacked their manager Miroslav Djukic. Real Betis take on Rubin Kazan and Lyon play Ukrainian side Chornomorets Odesa.