In the shadow of the Champions League, the teams that failed to qualify to play among the “big boys” battle each other in the Europa League. For some the Europa League represents a 2nd tier European competition, for others, it represents a great opportunity for their teams to rise to the top of Europe. Whichever way we look at the Europa League, it offers some highly entertaining matches between the best clubs in Europe, so it would be hard to argue it’s any less entertaining than the Champions League.
In this article, we will check the top 5 most interesting matches in the Europa League which you shouldn’t miss.
Galatasaray vs Benfica
Two of the top teams from their countries, Galatasaray and Benfica will meet each other in the 1/16 finals of the Europa League. This, however, won’t be the first time the teams play against each other. Back in 2015, Galatasaray met Benfica in the Champions’ League group stage. In addition, they have met each other back in 2011 in a friendly match as well as in 2008 (Europa League). With a total of 4 H2H matches between the two sides, they have both won two times. Bookmakers offer odds of 33.44 on Benfica to go on and win Europa League, while odds on Galatasaray to do the same are at 50.75. The odds offered to seem fair to me, as Benfica does come off as a better team. With the first match played in Istanbul, we can expect Galatasaray to push for an advantage before heading to Portugal. Despite the odds shifting towards Benfica, this clash should prove to be an interesting and a close one worth checking out.
Lazio vs Sevilla
Surprisingly, the match between Lazio and Sevilla on February 14th will mark the 1st time these two sides meet each other. With that in mind, we cannot compare the strengths of the teams when playing against each other, so let’s check how they perform in their domestic leagues. Sevilla are currently 4th in LaLiga, while Lazio sit at the 6th place in Serie A. Comparing their performances thus far, there is little to separate them. In fact, I believe these two teams are playing equally well this season, which ultimately means they both have the same chance to win the Europa League. While this does not mean they are among favourites to do so it surely means we are in for an interesting and a close match. If I had to pick a winner between the two sides, Lazio does come off as a stronger team overall. Despite that Sevilla is expected to put up a good fight, which should result in an interesting 2nd leg of the competitions.
Celtic vs Valencia
Valencia, as one of the favourites to win the Europa League, got grouped with Celtics who are priced at 76.5 to win this season. These two teams have played against each other twice in their history. Both matches took place in 2001 in the 1/16 finals of Europa League. In the first match, Valencia celebrated the win (1:0). The next match ended in a draw (1:1), which meant Valencia advanced into the next stage of the tournament. This year Celtics will finally get a great chance to avenge their defeat from 18 years ago, but will they manage to do it? With the recent news of Gabriel’s injury, Celtics received a huge boost to their chances of winning. The first match will be played in Glasgow, that is why I believe Celtics are able to upset the Spanish side in the 1st leg. With that, the first match between the two sides might be interesting, however, the final result should see Valencia advancing into the next stage of the tournament.
Club Brugge KV vs Salzburg
Strength-wise it’s hard to compare these two sides. They are not playing in the same league, neither have they met each other before. The bookmakers offer odds of 163 on Club Brugge KV to win the Europa League, while Salzburg are among the top 10 with 22.50. Those odds seem a bit off for me, as it ultimately means Salzburg are far better than Club Brugge KV, which is not the case. Of course, neither of the teams will be a real competitor to lift the trophy, however, this does not mean they won’t try. Far from it. In my eyes, Club Brugge KV are the favourites to come out of this stage as a winner, still, we cannot underestimate Salzburg who are more than capable of winning. Looking at how the two sides performed this season, Club Brugge KV have only lost 2 home matches up until now, while Salzburg have not lost an away match yet. My prediction on Club Brugge KV might be biased, but one thing I am sure of is that this will prove to be an interesting match to watch. The first match will be played in Belgium, where Brugge will try to get a lead prior to the match in Austria. In that regard, I expect a highly entertaining match in the 2nd leg where we will see who will advance into the next leg.
Sporting vs Villarreal
Imagine being among the top 4 teams in your league and then lose to a second to the last team from another league. This will be something to think about for Sporting, who will face off against Villareal on February 14th in the 1/16 finals of the Europa League.
The match should be an interesting one with a lot of pressure on Sporting to perform up to par and to not bring shame upon their country and of course their league. These two sides have met each other once before, in a friendly match on July 26th, 2016. The mentioned match was won by Villareal after penalties. The odds offered on Villareal to win the Europa League are at 18.31, while Sporting has odds of 49.00 offered to do the same. No matter the odds, neither of the teams really has a chance to win the Europa League, solely because there are plenty of other teams far better than Sporting and Villareal. With Villareal odds significantly lower than Sporting, I can’t wait to see if they can justify them by knocking the Portuguese team out of the competition. And while Spanish league is significantly stronger than Portuguese league, I have my doubts Villarreal will have an easy time against Sporting.
Here is the list of all matches of the UEFA Europa League for the round of 32:
|Team 1||Team 2|
|Viktoria Plzeň||Dinamo Zagreb|
|Club Brugge||Red Bull Salzburg|
|Rapid Wien||Inter Milan|
|Shakhtar Donetsk||Eintracht Frankfurt|
|Fenerbahçe||Zenit Saint Petersburg|
Sports journalist, content writer and passionate football lover.