Europa League Round of 16 preview

As 16 of Europe’s finest teams get closer to Gdansk, the ties are only getting better as the competition moves on. I will be going over the eight upcoming ties and a recap of how each team got here.

Slavia Praha vs Rangers 

Both teams were imposing in the round of 32, with Rangers scoring nine goals against Royal Antwerp in a 9-5 aggregate win. Slavia Praha caused one of the upsets of the competition after defeating Leicester City two-nil in England to send them through. 

Rangers’ currently lead the Scottish Premiership by 18 point’s and remain unbeaten in Europe. Slavia Praha is unbeaten in the Fortuna Liga and leads 2nd place by 8 points.

In their respective league’s these two teams have a combined 131 goals, so you can expect goals and lot’s of them as two of Europe’s most in-form sides go head to head. 

Dynamo Kyiv vs Villarreal

Having dropped down from the Champions League group stages, Dynamo Kyiv left it late at Brugge but got the job done with an 83rd-minute winner from Vitalii Buyalskyi to gave them the much needed away goal to send them through 2-1 on aggregate. 

Villarreal was a lot more convincing against Red Bull Salzburg as two goals in both legs helped them on their way to a 4-0 aggregate win. Having not won a Spanish league game in six matches, Dynamo Kyiv will hope that the run continues for the first leg in Ukraine. 

Kyiv is currently top of the Ukrainian league but has just returned from a big winter break, so the players may be lacking match sharpness. This is undoubtedly a tie to keep your eyes on as both teams are very capable of winning.

Granada vs Molde

European debutants Granada shocked many in the round of 32 as they knocked out Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli 3-2 on aggregate despite a loss in the second leg. 

Having gone through three stages to qualify for the group stages, Granada is one of the most surprising teams in the competition at this stage and will look to make this historical campaign even better.

Their opponents Molde were in Champions League qualifying but went out on away goals to Ferencvaros. Molde arguably caused the biggest upset of the last round. They travelled to Germany to play Hoffenheim after an entertaining 3-3 draw in Norway. Molde scored two goals in the away leg to knock Hoffenheim out 5-3 on aggregate. 

Although neither of these teams is world-beaters, they have both shown why they deserve to be here at this stage and neither should be underestimated.

Dinamo Zagreb vs Tottenham

Both teams comfortably beat their opponents in the last round and scored some spectacular goals in the process. 

Zagreb defeated Champions League drop-outs Krasnodar 4-2 on aggregate. Tottenham dismantled Austrian outfit Wolfsberger 8-1 on aggregate, with Dele Alli scoring a scintillating overhead kick in the second leg. 

Tottenham will be favourites going into the game, but Zagreb are always capable of pulling off an upset. If their star players like Mislav Orsic and Bruno Petkovic can perform to a standard in which they are capable of then there is no reason why Zagreb cannot put up a serious fight.

Roma vs Shakhtar Donetsk

Roma has looked strong in this tournament so far and a comfortable 5-1 aggregate win over Portuguese team Braga has certainly caught the eye of many. In Serie A they are fighting for a top 4 spot and are having an all-round impressive season. 

In Eastern Europe, Shakhtar is just one point behind Ukrainian league leaders Dynamo Kyiv. In the Champions League earlier this season, Shakhtar won both games against 13-time Champions League winners Real Madrid but fell short in other games and therefore dropped into the Europa League. A comfortable 3-0 aggregate win over Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv ensured their place in the round of 16.

Ajax vs Young Boys

Both teams had fascinating games last round with Ajax beating Lille 4-2 on aggregate. In the first leg, Ajax was down 1-0 in the 87th minute but 2 goals in 2 minutes quickly turned things around in France. They left the win late again in Amsterdam, but David Neres strike two minutes from time gave them another 2-1 win to solidify a round of 16 position.

Swiss side Young Boys defeated Bayer Leverkusen 6-3 on aggregate after a fascinating first leg in Switzerland, which finished 4-3 in favour of the home side. French striker Theoson Jordan Siebatcheu looked impressive in both legs and scored three goals across the two legs. They top the Swiss Super League with an 18 point gap to second place. 

Both teams on top of their leagues are sure to make this one a thrilling encounter.

Olympiacos vs Arsenal

Both teams almost didn’t make it to this round. 

After beating PSV 4-2 in the first leg, Olympiacos had a solid lead to build on. However, in the second leg, they found themselves 2-0 down and heading for an exit with two minutes to go. Egyptian striker Ahmed Hassan gave them the much needed away goal to put them up 5-4 on aggregate and sent them into the round of 16.

Eighty-seven minutes into the second leg and Arsenal found themselves staring defeat in the face as Benfica led on away goals. A delicate cross from one of the world’s most exciting prospects, Bukayo Saka found itself on Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s head and in the back of the net to seal a pulsating victory over Benfica.

Olympiacos knocked Arsenal out of Europe last year, so the Gunners will be out for revenge.

Manchester United vs Milan

This match will undoubtedly be the tie of the round as two of the best teams left in the competition face each other. Manchester United had a much more convincing victory over Real Sociedad with four goals in the first leg to secure their round of 16 spot. Milan failed to win in either leg over Red Star Belgrade but away goals were in their favour after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

In 4 of the last 5 European games between these two sides, Milan has won, but Manchester United are the only one to have won the Europa League between the two sides. 

This will be an enthralling encounter and whoever wins this tie will be one of the favourites of the competition to win.

Cal Bain