Europa League 2021: Preview and Predictions for Round of 16

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

Europa League 2021: Preview and Predictions for Round of 16

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    Credit: Getty Images, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

    Manchester United and AC Milan are giants of European soccer on a mission to reach the UEFA Europa League final. 

    After a handful of surprising results occurred in the round of 32, the two powers appeared to have clear paths to the competition's last stage until the round-of-16 draw took place.

    The Red Devils and Rossoneri begin a two-legged tie Thursday that could produce the favorite to win the competition.

    Both sides are in solid form in their respective domestic leagues, and they are the two biggest clubs left in the tournament.

    With one of those two guaranteed to be eliminated, the championship path could be clearer for Ajax, Roma and other favorites with better matchups at this juncture of the knockout round.


    This article was produced in partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Manchester United vs. AC Milan

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    Laurence Griffiths/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 12:55 p.m. ET at Manchester United

    Second Leg: March 18, 4 p.m. ET at AC Milan

    Manchester United produced the best result of any remaining Europa League participant over the weekend, as it defeated English Premier League leader Manchester City.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side has not lost a game in all competitions since Jan. 27. It picked up six draws and five victories in that stretch.

    Over the last six games of that stretch, United have conceded a single goal to Newcastle United on Feb. 21.

    In the round of 32, the Red Devils made a difficult matchup with Real Sociedad look easy. They rattled off four goals in the first leg to finish off the tie in 90 minutes.

    United could have the edge against Milan, since it will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the first leg, and it looked shaky in the last round against Red Star Belgrade. The Italians drew both round-of-32 games and got through on away goals.

    The Red Devils have some injury woes of their own, with Marcus Rashford set to miss Thursday's game, but they still boast plenty of attacking firepower as Bruno Fernandes remains in fine form. 

    Milan is coming off a clean sheet in Serie A against Hellas Verona, but that shutout was the first in seven games.

    Without Ibrahimovic, the Rossoneri can still call upon Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao among others to score goals, but it may be hard against one of the in-form defensive units in Europe.

    Prediction: Manchester United

Ajax vs. Young Boys

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    Patrick Post/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 12:55 p.m. ET at Ajax

    Second Leg: March 18, 4 p.m. at Young Boys

    Young Boys delivered one of the biggest surprises of the round of 32 by eliminating Bayer Leverkusen, leaving the Bundesliga without a round-of-16 participant.

    The last-16 test is even bigger for the Swiss side, as it takes on a club with a rich European history in Ajax.

    Although Young Boys' European pedigree does not compare to Ajax's, it has comparable form across all competitions since the turn of the year.

    Neither side has suffered a defeat during that span, and they are on top of the Swiss Super League and Eredivisie, respectively.

    The primary difference between the two sides is the high rate at which Ajax finds the back of the net. It is averaging 3.17 goals per game in league play compared to 1.75 from Young Boys.

    Young Boys have also only drawn their last three league games in the lead-up to this matchup.

    The Swiss team did hold the Bayer Leverkusen attack without a goal in the home leg of their round of 32 matchup, but the Germans haven't been prolific scorers this season.

    If Dusan Tadic, Davy Klaassen and the Ajax attack remain in form, the Dutch side could earn an early advantage at home before scoring crucial away goals to finish off the tie in a week's time.

    Prediction: Ajax

Dynamo Kyiv vs. Villarreal

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    Andreas Schaad/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 12:55 p.m. ET at Dynamo Kyiv

    Second Leg: March 18. 4 p.m. at Villarreal

    Villarreal could be viewed as a dark horse to hoist the Europa League trophy because it has the competition's most successful manager at its helm.

    Unai Emery won three titles with Sevilla and took Arsenal to the 2019 Europa League final before losing to Chelsea.

    Emery may have to work some of his European tactical magic to reinvigorate his side's form going into the first leg with Dynamo Kyiv.

    Villarreal's only two wins in its last nine matches across all competitions came in the round of 32 against Red Bull Salzburg.

    The Yellow Submarine need that European form to continue to take on a Dynamo Kyiv side that has won three of its last four matches on the continental and domestic levels.

    Villarreal could have the X-factor in the matchup in Paco Alcacer, who has scored five of his 10 goals this season in the Europa League.

    If Alcacer—or another player such as club top scorer Gerard Moreno—pegs an away goal in the first leg, Villarreal could be in a good position to advance.

    Kyiv has not been in the best form away from home in Europe this season. It suffered two losses and a draw on its travels in the Champions League group stage against Juventus and Barcelona and scored two goals versus Club Brugge in the round of 32 on neutral pitches.

    Villarreal might be susceptible to a defeat on home soil since it lost its last two La Liga matches at Estadio de la Ceramica, but those were the losses suffered there all season. Those results may be more of a slip up than anything since one came against La Liga leader Atletico Madrid. 

    Prediction: Villarreal

Slavia Prague vs. Rangers

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    Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 12:55 p.m. ET at Slavia Prague

    Second Leg: March 18. 4 p.m. ET at Rangers

    The Europa League should be Rangers' primary focus for the rest of the season. Steven Gerrard's club locked up the Scottish Premiership title over the weekend.

    The Scottish champion could be poised for a deep run in Europe if it continues to score at the rapid pace in which it did against Antwerp.

    Rangers bagged nine goals over the two legs. However, it did concede five goals to the Belgians.

    To feel more secure about its chances, Rangers need to shore up its defense against the leader of the Czech league.

    Slavia Prague has conceded seven goals in the last eight games and held Leicester City scoreless in both legs of the round of 32.

    If Slavia were to advance deep into the competition, it would be through its defense that has allowed 0.68 goals per game in league play.

    However, if Rangers breaks down the Czech defense and pulls out an away goal or two, it should be able to close out the tie at Ibrox.

    Prediction: Rangers

Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Alfredo Falcone - LaPresse/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 3 p.m. ET at Roma

    Second Leg: March 18, 1:55 p.m. ET at Shakhtar

    If AC Milan stumbles against Manchester United, Roma would be Italy's top hope to claim the Europa League crown.

    Roma's lone loss in the last seven games in all competitions came against Milan. It has four clean sheets during that span.

    Roma's defensive dominance of Braga led to a 5-1 win in the round of 32, and if that high defensive standard remains in play, we could see a similar scoreline against Shakhtar Donetsk.

    Shakhtar's defense is also in top form. It has allowed two goals in its seven games since returning from its midseason break on February 14.

    However, the difference between the two sides is the pace in which Roma has found the back of the net in the last few weeks.

    Roma has scored multiple goals in four of its last seven games, including both clashes with Braga, and it has netted two or more in six of its eight Europa League affairs.

    Prediction: Roma

Olympiacos vs. Arsenal

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 3 p.m. ET at Olympiacos

    Second Leg: March 18, 1:55 p.m. ET at Arsenal

    Arsenal needed a late goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just to reach the round of 16.

    Since the team's dramatic advancement past Benfica, Arsenal beat an injury-riddled Leicester City side and drew with Burnley.

    The disappointing result against the Clarets does not inspire much confidence going into Greece for the Gunners, but then again nothing seems to be easy for the team this season.

    The good news for Mikel Arteta's side is that it has been able to score on the road over the last few weeks. Arsenal has scored on its travels in seven of its last eight games away from the Emirates Stadium, including in the round of 32 against Benfica. 

    If the Gunners strike the back of the net once in Greece, they could be in a good position to advance.

    Olympiacos conceded twice in both of its round-of-32 clashes with PSV Eindhoven and has allowed at least one tally in seven of its last eight contests.

    If Arsenal takes advantage of Olympiacos' open defense, it could move on and produce what may be a final eight dominated by English clubs.

    If the Gunners do that, they could produce a much better result than the two goals they scored in the round-of-32 defeat to Olympiacos in last season's Europa League. 

    Prediction: Arsenal

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Dinamo Zagreb

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    Julian Finney/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 3 p.m. at Tottenham

    Second Leg: March 18, 1:55 p.m. at Dinamo Zagreb

    Tottenham has rediscovered its form over the last four games by scoring 13 goals.

    The attacking unit of Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli could propel Spurs deep into the Europa League and save a disappointing league campaign.

    Jose Mourinho's team will be tasked with breaking down the defense of Dinamo Zagreb, which has recorded clean sheets against six of its last seven opponents across all competitions.

    However, the Croatian side did let up two goals against Russian side Krasnodar in the first leg of the round of 32, and that could mean it will be susceptible to the attacking prowess of Spurs' world-class group.

    While the spotlight has been on the Spurs attack, and rightfully so, their defense has been playing well of late with one goal allowed in the last four games and a clean sheet in the second leg against Wolfsberger AC.

    If Spurs take care of business at home in the first leg and take a commanding lead, they could clinch a berth in the quarterfinals.

    Prediction: Tottenham

Granada vs. Molde

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    Uwe Anspach/Associated Press

    First Leg: Thursday, 3 p.m. at Granada

    Second Leg: March 18, 1:55 p.m. at Molde

    The Granada-Molde round-of-16 tie is a battle of underdogs.

    Molde shocked Hoffenheim in the round of 32, while Granada stunned Napoli to move on.

    Granada has a bigger reputation because it plays in La Liga, but it does not have a storied history on the continental level. In addition to that, its victory over Napoli was a shock because of the form the Spanish side has been in.

    Granada has two victories in its last eight games across all competitions, and it lost the second leg to Napoli in the round of 32. That collection of results could give Molde belief that the tie is there for the taking.

    The Norwegian champion has had weeks to focus solely on Granada since its league season does not begin until April 5.

    The key for Molde will be to snag away goals like it did twice against Hoffenheim. Granada conceded in four of its last six domestic home games and concedes 1.69 goals per game in La Liga.

    Prediction: Molde


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    Statistics obtained from