After playing three play-in games just to get into the competition as well as six matches in the group stage, it already feels as though Tottenham Hotspur’s Europa League campaign has gone on forever. Well guess what — Spurs still have four more home and away series — that’s eight matches — just to make it to the finals in Gdańsk City Stadium in Poland. Gaah!
But one step at a time. The draw for the Europa League Round of 32 takes place Monday (tomorrow!) at 1 p.m. CET (7:00 a.m. ET). By the time most of us wake up we’ll know who Spurs’ opponent is, which leaves juuust enough time for a quick analysis of who Spurs might face.
First, a couple of ground rules. The clubs left in the competition were sorted into two pots: seeded, for clubs who finished top of their group, and unseeded, who finished second. Now add to it the eight third-placed Champions League who parachute into this competition in the knockout round. They too are sorted into seeded and unseeded pots, based on the number of points they accrued in the Champions League.
That leaves the following groups:
Europa League Round of 32 Teams
|Bayer Leverkusen||Slavia Prague|
|Villarreal||Maccabi Tel Aviv|
|1899 Hoffenheim||Red Star Belgrade|
|Club Brugge||Red Bull Salzburg|
|Shakhtar Donetsk||Dynamo Kyiv|
Seeded teams are drawn against unseeded teams in this round, with the unseeded teams playing at home in the first leg. Clubs cannot be drawn against teams in their own federation, or against a team they played in the group stage of the competition. For Spurs, that means they can’t be drawn against Royal Antwerp, since they were in Spurs’ group. The other teams in Spurs’ federation — Leicester City, Manchester United, Arsenal — are all also seeded so that point is moot.
That’s still a lot of teams! Thankfully, most of them still kind of suck. However, there are a couple of potential pitfalls lurking in the unseeded pot.
Red Bull Salzburg
If there’s a scary team in the unseeded pot, it’s Salzburg. In fact, they may be among the scariest clubs left in the competition, and woe to the team who happens to draw them. Led by American manager Jesse Marsch, they’re currently two points clear at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga ahead of LASK, Spurs’ group stage opponents. They were drawn into a killer group that included Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, and they gave Atletico a pretty good game at the Wanda. They’re led by a pair of young strikers in Sekou Koita and Mergim Berisha, who have combined for 19 goals in all competitions. The one bit of good news is that if Spurs do draw them, they’re unlikely to have to face midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who is likely leaving to a bigger, better club in January.
Another gulp-inducing club in Pot 2 is Real Sociedad. Despite finishing behind Napoli in their Europa League group, they blazed to a hot start and still are currently top of La Liga, ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal differential, though their most notable result is a scoreless draw against Real Madrid and they haven’t yet played Barcelona. Spurs took a long look at their striker Willian Jose in this summer’s transfer window, and they have a number of names familiar to Premier League fans on their roster including Adnan Januzaj, Nacho Monreal, and some guy named David Silva.
Not only does Lille have some #narrative baked into that matchup (Jose Mourinho poached Joao Sacramento and a couple other assistants from them last year), but they’re also playing well. They’re currently atop Ligue 1 with an 8-5-1 record and 29 points, tied with Lyon and a point ahead of PSG. Turkish forwards Yusuf Yazici and Buruk Yilmaz (another one-time Spurs target) have combined for 18 goals, 8 in the Europa League. Hard pass.
Benfica’s usually a tough out simply because they’re almost always in some kind of European competition. But the real reason I won’t want to see Spurs draw them is that I don’t want Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane to have to do bad things to Jan Vertonghen.
The good news for Spurs is that there are a bunch of middling to not-great teams left at this stage of the competition. The bad news is that Spurs are prohibited from drawing Arsenal in this round. Even so, there are a couple of sides that I wouldn’t mind seeing Tottenham draw out of a hat tomorrow morning.
Norway was one of the earliest leagues to start playing the 2020-21 league, kicking off all the way back in June. Molde, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s old club, is currently a distant second in the table, 22 points behind Bodø/Glimt. Norwegian clubs don’t usually make a ton of noise in European competition, and this Molde club got spanked 7-1 by Arsenal over two legs. I’ll take me some of that.
I don’t know if Young Boys are still playing on the plastic pitch they had the last time Spurs played them in the 2011 Champions League campaign, but I know they’re relatively close by and unlikely to give Spurs a ton of difficulty. No jokes, please.
If Red Bull Salzburg are the scary Austrian team in the competition, Wolfsberg look a lot more manageable. They’re currently seventh in the Austrian Bundesliga with 13 points from 10 matches. They came out of a pretty easy group and their stats don’t look particularly impressive. They’re also close to home, and I’m kinda done traveling to Bulgaria and beyond.
Simulate your own draw
As always, there’s a handy Europa League draw simulator where you can have fun drawing virtual ping-pong balls and angsting/celebrating your hypothetical draws. Here’s my first one — I’ll take it!