So we’re headed to the Europa League—and it’s a weaker Europa League than one typically has seen in recent years. Let’s talk about how the draw for the round of 32 works.
We’ll have a more comprehensive post going up tomorrow to preview the draw. For now, let’s talk about who is already in, where they fall, and what games matter most today.
What does the draw look like right now?
We’ll break this into four categories:
Teams that have already secured a seeded place in the draw:
- Zenit St Petersburg
- Shakhtar Donetsk
- Sparta Prague
Teams that have already secured an unseeded place in the draw:
- Borussia Monchengladbach
- Legia Warsaw
Teams that have secured advancement to the round of 32 but could be seeded or unseeded depending on today’s results:
- Athletic Bilbao
Teams that may or may not advance based on today’s results (starred teams indicate teams that can only advance as unseeded teams for the draw, teams with no star could advance as seeded or unseeded depending on today’s results):
- Manchester United
- AZ Alkmaar
- Maccabi Tel-Aviv
- Astra Giurgiu
- Austria Wien
- Standard Liege*
- Celta Vigo*
- Hapoel Be’er Sheva*
- Steaua Bucuresti
- FC Zurich
What games should you watch today?
So this is obviously going to be based on a relatively simple thought process:
- We mostly don’t care about watching teams who have already clinched a spot in the seeded or unseeded draw because we know where we stand with them. (I’m making one exception here for reasons I’ll explain later.)
- We care about the good teams in that fourth group of 21 teams.
- Therefore, we care about the three Group A teams, Fenerbahce, Manchester United, and Feyenoord, Fiorentina, Southampton, and Villarreal.
Here are the games to watch, then:
First, from the early set of fixtures which are currently under way:
- Qarabag v Fiorentina
- PAOK v Liberec
Fiorentina is almost certainly through, but if Qarabag beat them by more than four goals and PAOK wins, then Fiorentina would be out. Other possibilities: Any kind of result for Fiorentina, win or draw, means they advance as a seeded team. If Fiorentina loses and PAOK wins, then PAOK would be seeded and Fiorentina would be unseeded as PAOK holds the tie-breaker against Fiorentina thanks to their 3-2 win against Fiorentina earlier in the group stage.
- Osmanlipsor v Zurich
- Villarreal v Steaua Bucuresti
This one is extremely complicated with regard to seeded and unseeded teams, but one key thing is that if Villarreal fail to get a result against Steaua, they will be eliminated. If Villarreal get a result, then it gets more complicated.
Now, here are the late fixtures to watch:
- Zorya Luhansk v Manchester United
- Feyenoord v Fenerbahce
The only way Manchester United crashes out completely is if Feyenoord defeats Fenerbahce and United loses to Zorya. United holds the tie-breaker on Feyenoord so if the Red Devils draw and Feyenoord wins, Feyenoord would still be out. Ultimately, Spurs fans are rooting for one of two outcomes:
- Zorya wins + Feyenoord wins, which knocks United out of the competition. (If Feyenoord wins 1-0, that is best because then Fenerbahce remains the seeded team and there’s no chance of us getting sent to Istanbul for the round of 32.)
- United gets a result and stays in the competition and Fenerbahce matches United’s result so that they win the group stage, which means they are seeded for the draw. We cannot draw Manchester United no matter what for the round of 32 but if Fenerbahce is the seeded team, we also cannot draw them, which is ideal because, again, we don’t want to go to Istanbul for the round of 32.
Other fixtures of note from the late set:
- Rapid Wien v Bilbao
- Sassuolo v Genk
We want Bilbao to get a better result than Genk. This way Bilbao gets the seeded place and we avoid a trip to San Mames for the round of 32. If Genk matches Bilbao’s result, Bilbao is unseeded and we could potentially face them in the round of 32.
- Southampton v Hapoel Be’er Sheva
This one is a de facto play-in game for an unseeded spot in the draw. If Southampton wins or draws, they advance. If Hapoel gets a win, then they advance.
So, there you go. A viewing guide for today’s Europa League. Y’all are welcome. :)