Thursday concluded the lowest level of professional football there is – the group stage of the Europa League. On Monday, we will find out the fixtures for the highest level of professional football there is – the knockout stage of the Europa League.
Alexa, play the Europa League theme.
One of the drawbacks of the knockouts, however, is that there a million games to go through before you get to the final, and it can sometimes be daunting to see all those teams in the draw and figure out if you even stand a chance of winning the bloody thing.
Well, no worries, 90min have you covered. Here’s your comprehensive guide to the Europa League knockout stage and every team’s chances of hoisting the trophy in Gdansk come May – ranked and in tiers.
TIER 5 – THANKS FOR COMING
Team strengths: Aren’t on FIFA so most people won’t bother scouting them
Team weaknesses: They’d probably be rated two stars if they were
Key players: Yonatan Cohen, Dan Glazer, Enric Saborit
Why poor little Maccabi Tel Aviv you ask? Well, having spoken to a fan of the club, he assures me that they are definitely the worst team remaining in the competition. And who am I to doubt him?
Team strengths: No longer being held back by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Team weaknesses: No longer being spearheaded by Erling Haaland
Key players: Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Leke James, Fredrik Aursnes
Molde lose points because they managed to finish below the reserves of the worst Arsenal team of all time in the group stage.
Team strengths: Might fool teams into thinking they’re Wolfsburg
Team weaknesses: Are, in fact, not Wolfsburg
Key players: Michael Liendl, Dejan Joveljic, Mario Leitgeb
Austrian side Wolfsberger managed to knock out Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow, so they clearly are capable of playing association football at least.
Team strengths: Intimidating atmosphere at Rajko Mitić Stadium
Team weaknesses: Their home games will likely be played behind closed doors
Key players: Mirko Ivanic, Aleksandar Katai, Ben
Always picked out as ‘a tricky place to go’, but maybe this time around it’ll be ‘a pretty nice place to go tbh Belgrade is a lovely city’.
TIER 4 – MIGHT SCORE A GOAL
Team strengths: If you translate their name into Spanish, they become ‘Real Antwerp’
Team weaknesses: Are unfortunately Belgian
Key players: Lior Refaelov, Dieumerci Mbokani, Faris Haroun
How do I know Royal Antwerp can score a goal? Because I watched them beat my beloved Tottenham 1-0 in the group stage. It wasn’t fun.
Team strengths: Their main supporters group is called the ‘Bad Blues Boys’
Team weaknesses: Tell me with a straight face that they aren’t going out immediately
Key players: Dominik Livakovic, Arijan Ademi, Bruno Petkovic
Good evening, sir. Would you please leave without a fuss, right now?
Team strengths: Have a really, really cool stadium
Team weaknesses: Literally conceded a goal to Jorginho
Key players: Remy Cabella, Marcus Berg, Wanderson
Krasnodar finished above a pretty decent Rennes team in order to drop into the Europa League, but they also conceded two late goals to 10-man Sevilla, so it’s impossible to say if they’re good or not.
Team strengths: Ended Basel’s reign of Swiss terror
Team weaknesses: God, imagine trying to explain their team name
Key players: Jean-Pierre Nsame, Miralem Sulejmani, Christian Fassnacht
Not bad for a team of young boys!
Is this mic on?
Team strengths: Come from a beautiful city
Team weaknesses: Architecture doesn’t win football matches
Key players: Ondrej Kolar, Nicolae Stanciu, Peter Olayinka
The spirit of Tomas Soucek will hopefully guide Slavia through the knockout stage again. But probably won’t.
TIER 3 – GOOD FEEDER CLUBS ON FOOTBALL MANAGER
Team strengths: Adapted to the cold and will fear no opponent
Team weaknesses: Everything else
Key players: Viktor Tsyhankov, Vladyslav Supriaha, Carlos de Pena
Poor Dynamo have been through the ringer so far in Europe this season, already taking a couple of thrashings from Barcelona and Juventus. And they aren’t even that good anymore.
Team strengths: Have strong Europa League heritage
Team weaknesses: Europa League heritage is another way of saying they’re losers
Key players: Ricardo Horta, Paulinho, Galeno
Braga’s entire transfer budget gets spent on ballboys to traverse the quarry their stadium is built on, but still managed to sign Man Utd rumour mill legend Nico Gaitan. Impressive.
Team strengths: Belgian champions
Team weaknesses: They were awarded the title by default before any playoffs could take place
Key players: Simon Mignolet, Hans Vanaken, Emmanuel Dennis
If Simon Mignolet is among your best players you’re just not going to win the Europa League, alright?
Team strengths: Have won the Greek league 107 times and it’s only been going 106 years (according to Paul Merson)
Team weaknesses: This might need fact-checking
Key players: Mathieu Valbuena, Ruben Semedo, Youssef El Arabi
Last season’s round of 32 tie with Arsenal was great fun. We’re delighted to be welcoming Olympiacos back.
Team strengths: They have World Cup winner Mario Gotze!
Team weaknesses: He’s reportedly investing in a marijuana business with Andre Schurrle so he might be a bit busy
Key players: Donyell Malen, Noni Madueke, Mario Gotze (maybe)
Remember hipster manager Roger Schmidt? He’s back from China and leading PSV straight to a round of 16 exit.
Team strengths: Somehow all of their players are wonderkids
Team weaknesses: Will probably be without Dominik Szoboszlai come February
Key players: Sekou Koita, Patson Daka, not Dominik Szoboszlai
UEFA make Salzburg drop the Red Bull name in European competitions, making them a little less tin can and a little more tinpot all at once.
Team strengths: Spanish teams tend to do well in the Europa League
Team weaknesses: Roberto Soldado in 2020? Really?
Key players: Darwin Machis, Rui Silva, Jesus Vallejo
Thinking about that time someone tried to book a flight to Granada and ended up at Grenada instead.
Team strengths: Have some pretty tidy players
Team weaknesses: Point out ‘Hoffenheim’ on a map of Germany, I dare you
Key players: Andrej Kramaric, Florian Grillitsch, Sebastian Rudy
Julian Nagelsmann may be gone, but it’s still nice to see Hoffenheim flourishing with a young-ish core that’ll inevitably be ripped apart.
TIER 2 – THE DARK HORSES
Team strengths: No longer being held back by Nicolas Pepe
Team weaknesses: I’ve already made this joke so that’s a shame
Key players: Renato Sanches, Yusuf Yazici, Mike Maignan
Ooh, a contender, nice. Shame there’s 14 teams ahead of you in the queue.
Team strengths: Have by far the nicest kits in the competition
Team weaknesses: They’re literally cursed
Key players: Darwin Nunez, Pizzi, Jan Vertonghen
It’s nice to see Bela Guttman’s curse still going strong after all these years. Here’s to another season of Benfica misery in Europe.
Team strengths: Steven Gerrard might be the best manager in the world
Team weaknesses: I’m sure that’ll change
Key players: James Tavernier, Alfredo Morelos, Ryan Kent
I found Rangers’ landing spot by thinking ‘okay, which of these teams would I definitely NOT back them against?’. The answer was right here.
Team strengths: Beat Real Madrid home and away
Team weaknesses: Still somehow were eliminated from the Champions League
Key players: Tete, Marlos, Taison
A place in the knockout stages of the Champions League was there for the taking and Shakhtar decided to park the bus. Respect.
Team strengths: Great Twitter content
Team weaknesses: Football team aren’t as great
Key players: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Edin Dzeko, Pedro
Roma’s average squad age of about 47 might hinder them come the back-end of the season.
Team strengths: Loveable team
Team weaknesses: Might have that Benfica curse
Key players: Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Quincy Promes
I know Ajax get asset-stripped every summer and they’re fine with that, but how have they ended up in the Europa League again?
Team strengths: Surely can’t be this bad forever
Team weaknesses: Threat of relegation might see them tank the Europa League
Key players: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel, Thomas Partey
At the time of writing, Arsenal are 15th in the Premier League, so they’re lucky to even be this high on the list.
Team strengths: Have bounced back from selling Kai Havertz
Team weaknesses: ‘Neverkusen’
Key players: Moussa Diaby, Lucas Alario, Leon Bailey
A team named after a pharmaceutical company might have a good chance of winning a major tournament after this hellish year.
TIER 1 – THE REAL CONTENDERS
Team strengths: Jamie Vardy needs European glory to complete his story arc
Team weaknesses: Even with just 2,000 fans back you’ll still hear those clappers
Key players: Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira
Big Brendan Rodgers is on the hunt for European glory, and he might just get it if he keeps his Brent-isms to himself.
Team strengths: They have David Silva
Team weaknesses: They only have one David Silva
Key players: David Silva, Portu, Alexander Isak
The Royal Society of San Sebastian have made a great start to the season, and deservedly rank high among the frontrunners.
Team strengths: Best stadium announcer in the world
Team weaknesses: That seems a bit redundant right now
Key players: Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly, Hirving Lozano
Always there or thereabouts in the latter stages of the Europa League, Napoli look pretty well placed to make a run.
Team strengths: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is reborn
Team weaknesses: There must be a catch
Key players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hakan Calhanoglu, Gianluigi Donnarumma
Milan being good is good for football. So you better appreciate them while they’re good before they’re not good again.
Team strengths: Unai Emery, Europa League extraordinaire
Team weaknesses: Unai Emery, meme extraordinaire
Key players: Dani Parejo, Pau Torres, Paco Alcacer
Please, please, PLEASE can Villarreal meet Arsenal at some point.
Team strengths: I’m not using the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joke again
Team weaknesses: Yes I am. Being held back by Ole Gunn-
Key players: Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford
On paper, United are easily one of the strongest teams. But football is played on a pitch, where they’re consistently inconsistent.
Team strengths: As the old song goes, ‘Tottenham are the greatest team the world has ever seen’
Team weaknesses: Lads, it’s Tottenham
Key players: Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Hugo Lloris
I anticipate that Spurs will fall out of serious Premier League title race contention by the time the knockout stages kick off, and so Jose Mourinho will try-hard his way to another Europa League title.