It has been written that for the first season of these revised Europa League knockout rounds – there is now a playoff round between teams that finished third in their Champions League groups and teams that finished third in their Europa League Groups finished in second place – a huge draw would result. And the draw didn’t disappoint!
– UEL draw: Barca vs Man United is the pick of the round
Barcelona and Manchester United, two European giants aiming to climb back up to the top, will face off for a place in the last 16. It means that one of the two managers, Erik ten Hag and Xavi, will leave Europe very early, which will be another embarrassment and another thing for the club.
On paper, Barcelona are slightly ahead in their development and process, but United can beat them too. It will also be a tactical battle; Moreover, Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to the Camp Nou will be marked – as will Raphael Varane and Casemiro – it will be the Frenkie De Jong derby. It could also be Sergio Busquets’ last appearance in Europe, making for a potentially intriguing draw.
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As Xavi put it on Monday: “The draw has once again given us the most difficult opponent but we will look forward to it and we will compete… It’s the worst draw we could have gotten. Once again. Sometimes playing against the best teams is a plus. Maybe it will bring out the best in us here and at Old Trafford. It is a challenge.”
The rest isn’t as flashy in comparison, although there are still some compelling matchups. Three in particular have the feel of Champions League ties:
– Bayer Leverkusen versus Monacoor Kevin Volland’s derby, as he spent four seasons scoring goals in the Bundesliga before joining the Ligue 1 club in 2020. Monaco and Philippe Clement are on form and will hope to be at their best in February to face Xabi Alonso’s side a tough test.
Alonso, a legend as a player and now his first job as a senior manager, has no experience and needs to learn quickly. Otherwise, the Principality team could prove too difficult to overcome. Wissam Ben Yedder (nine goals) and Breel Embolo lead from the front for Monaco while Alex Nubel has played every minute between the posts.
– Sevilla vs PSV Eindhoven will be great too. Jorge Sampaoli is trying to revive Sevilla’s season but he has yet to find the right formula. However, the Europa League is their competition, having won four of the last 10 editions.
While Sevilla struggles, PSV flies. They beat Arsenal in the group stage although they still finished second behind the Gunners. Ruud Van Nistelrooy is building a young team with great potential and if Cody Gakpo is still in the squad by the time of the first leg then they are my favorites to qualify.
RB Salzburg versus Roma is actually the story of two managers, the apprentice against the master: Mathias Jassle vs. José Mourinho. At 34, Jaissle has a bright future ahead of him and his young Salzburg side have held up well in the Champions League group with Chelsea and Milan, drawing against both. At 59, Mourinho would like to add the Europa League to his trophy cabinet after winning the Europa Conference League last season, but he needs to gather himself Giallorossi to their best form amid inconsistent performances in Serie A so far this campaign.
Otherwise, Juventus were arguably the luckiest side in the draw and Nantes came close to them. Last season’s French Cup winners are among the minnows left in the competition and they wanted the biggest opponent possible – consider that wish granted! The players celebrated when they drew Juve and they will have nothing to lose. For the Old Lady, the greatest pressure is that she simply cannot afford to lose, as it would be a fitting humiliation if she did.
Ajax vs. Union Berlin is the clash of two extremes, with opposing styles pitted against each other in an intriguing battle. The Dutch will have a lot of possession, while the Bundesliga side are all too fond of counterattacking. Ajax are undoubtedly the favorites but Union continue to defy the odds. Elsewhere, Shakhtar Donetsk will be an offensive affair against Rennes, although I believe the French side are the better side here. After all, Sporting will also go into the games against Midtjylland as favorites.
Full Europa League play-off draw
The games will take place on February 16th and 23rd
Barcelona vs Manchester United
Juventus vs Nantes
Sporting CP vs Midtjylland
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Rennes
Ajax versus Union Berlin
Bayer Leverkusen versus AS Monaco
Seville vs PSV Eindhoven
FC Salzburg versus AS Roma
https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-europa-league/story/4795183/barcelona-vs-man-united-pick-of-uefa-europa-league-draw Barcelona vs Man United pick of UEFA Europa League draw