UEFA Europa League Round of 16: Close ties all around

An official UEFA Europa League matchball sits on it's plinth waitng to be collected by the referee prior to the UEFA Europa League group B match between AS Monaco and Real Sociedad at Stade Louis II on November 25, 2021 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
An official UEFA Europa League matchball sits on it's plinth waitng to be collected by the referee prior to the UEFA Europa League group B match between AS Monaco and Real Sociedad at Stade Louis II on November 25, 2021 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images) /
Barcelona winger Adama Traore (center) is harassed by Napoli defenders during their Europa League match on Feb. 24, 2022, in Naples Italy (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Barcelona winger Adama Traore (center) is harassed by Napoli defenders during their Europa League match on Feb. 24, 2022, in Naples Italy (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

The Europa League Round of 16 offers interesting match-ups

The Europa League is back following a week of domestic action. With15 teams left in the Road to Seville, the next two weeks will feature seven enticing ties to see who will join RB Leipzig in the quarterfinal draw in 11 days time.

Before continuing, I will note that due to the ongoing situation involving Russia and Ukraine, UEFA has decided to suspend all Russian clubs from their continental tournaments. That resulted in Spartak Moscow being kicked out of the Europa League. RB Leipzig, the side that was supposed to take on The People’s Club, have earned a bye to the quarterfinals as a result.

As for the previous round, I successfully predicted five of the eight ties, calling the games involving Porto, Real Betis, Braga, Barcelona and Sevilla correctly. The three games I got wrong were Real Sociedad (eliminated by Leipzig), Rangers (Borussia Dortmund), and Atalanta (Olympiakos).

Here are the Round of 16 matchups and who I think will win them.

Olympique Lyon vs FC Porto

One of two ties pitting a Ligue 1 and Liga NOS side against each other, and two high-profile teams will go at it. With two of the highest ranked teams left in the tournament, this promises to be one of the best series of the round.

Leading the Portuguese top flight and already qualifying for Europe next season, Porto are having a more than solid campaign. They are still on for a domestic treble as Os Dragões have the upper hand in their cup semifinal. Getting the better of Lazio in the knockout round playoffs, Sérgio Conceição’s men are in prime form heading into the first leg.

Having gone unbeaten in Group A , Lyon have had an up-and-down season otherwise. They find themselves 3 points out of the European places in France despite their weekend success at Lorient. Should they bring their EL form to the two matches, l’OL will stand a great chance of moving on.

As for who I have to progress, I find this match-up to be very tight. Right now, I would have to say Porto are favorites. They have been the better side throughout the clubs’ respective seasons. Since they have also been largely consistent, I put my faith in the Portuguese outfit to move on.

Eintracht Frankfurt vs Real Betis

Another Germany against Spain matchup in the Europa League sees the 2018/19 semifinalists Eintracht Frankfurt take on Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis.

Group D toppers Frankfurt have been hit and miss in the Bundesliga thus far, with a weekend win halting a three-game losing slide. Going unbeaten in a group including Fenerbahce, Olympiakos and Antwerp, Oliver Glasner’s men will need to bring their A game to progress.

With the final in Seville in May, Real Betis will hope to play in the city they are based in. Success in the previous round at Zenit’s expense allowed them to get a step closer to a dream becoming a reality. They have also reached the Copa del Rey final recently. A weekend defeat, however, saw Los Verdiblancos drop out of the top 4 ahead of the first leg.

Last round saw a German team knock out a Spanish one, against my prediction. I think it will be different this time. I give the upper hand to Betis as they seem slightly more convincing. That said, Frankfurt is a strong Europa League side and I expect them to make this one close, but I think this will be one too much for them.

West Ham vs Sevilla

What a meeting this will be! The sole Premier League side left in this season’s Europa League will meet the competition’s most successful team.

Winning Group H at the expense of Dinamo Zagreb, Rapid Wien and Racing Genk, things have not been all that rosy for the Hammers in recent times. Elimination in the FA Cup last week was followed by a defeat at Anfield. While they are still sixth in the Premier League, David Moyes’ team will need better performances should they hope to topple the Spaniards.

It is fitting that the Ramón Sanchez Pizjuán Stadium will play host to this year’s final, especially since Julen Lopetegui’s Sevilla are yet again in the running to hoist the trophy for a record-extending seventh time. Second in LaLiga, it was Dinamo Zagreb who fell at the hands of Los Nervionenses in the knockout playoffs. They are a solid side defensively, boasting the meanest back-line in their league.

The Irons have their backs against the walls in this one. However, the Londoners can get comfort in knowing the last time Sevilla were eliminated from the Europa League, it came in this very round three seasons back at the hands of Slavia Prague.

Do I see lightning striking twice? Not in this case. Breaking down Sevilla’s defense will be quite the challenge and I think that will be the difference here. It’s Sevilla for me.

Crvena zvezda vs Rangers

The only one of these Round of 16 ties not to feature teams from the Big Five leagues, the defending champions of Serbia and Scotland will go head-to-head.

A recent Eternal Derby victory against Partizan has seen the gap between the two close to just 2 points, with Partizan just ahead. Things have been looking very bright for Crvena zvezda, with four wins on the spin between league and cup. Getting the better of Braga, Midtjylland and Ludogorets in their group, Red Star are in good stead to make some more noise.

Shocking Borussia Dortmund in the playoffs, Rangers find themselves back in the round they were eliminated in a year ago. They are in good shape heading into this tie, going unbeaten in nine straight. They have a few players out through injury, which could catch up with Giovanni van Bronckhorst and company.

This pairing can end up making the difference for both national associations as they jostle for an automatic Champions League group stage spot in the future. With that in mind, the Serbian duo of Crvena zvezda and Partizan have been more convincing in Europe this campaign, and for that reason I favor Red Star to move on.

AS Monaco vs Sporting Braga

Another fascinating pairing this, two European regulars will clash with a quarterfinal place on the line.

It was Real Sociedad, PSV and Sturm Graz that fell at the hands of Monaco in the group phase. Since the end of the first half of the year though, things have not been great for Les Monegasques. Defeat to Nantes in the Coupe de France piled on the issues at the Principality.

Questions are still being raised over the changing of coaches at the turn of the year. In what is their last chance at a trophy this season, pressure will be on Philippe Clement to continue producing in the Europa League.

Braga are no strangers to knockout round football with this being their fifth venture to this point of the tournament in the last seven seasons. The finalists of 11 years ago completed a comeback against Sheriff in the knockout round playoffs, securing their spot in this round. Fourth place in Portugal, they are in the same boat as their opponents as far as trophies are concerned.

I see these sides evenly matched. Both have struggled for consistency throughout the year, so I would not be surprised if each team ends up with one win. In the end, the edge is to Monaco for me as the Ligue 1 club has more on the line regarding European football for next season.

Bayer Leverkusen vs Atalanta

The theme of close-knit ties continues as the Werkself and La Dea will meet with the potential for a shower of goals across the two legs.

Between Real Betis, Celtic and Ferencvaros, Leverkusen had little trouble finishing ahead of the three. Third in the Bundesliga, it has been a rather solid campaign to this point in Europe and Germany. One of three Bundesliga teams left in the tournament, the Werkself head into the tie with confidence and, at their best, will be quite hard to stop.

The wheels seem to be falling off the cart for Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta. A third defeat in five Serie A matches leave the Orobici 6 points out of fourth place. Their progression over Olympiakos last month is the most success the Bergamaschi have seen since the turn of the year. They will have to look to replicate the performances that got them to this round if they wish to find a way past the Germans.

I expect Atalanta to struggle over the two ties. Both sides should score in both games but looking at form and what to expect from both, I see Bayer Leverkusen ending up winners in this one. Unless La Dea can turn things around quickly, they are not looking good to progress.

Galatasaray vs Barcelona

Finally, the most lopsided tie of the lot. A Galatasaray team that has been horrific for much of the season face a much-improved Blaugrana.

It has been a nightmare season domestically for Galatasaray. They find themselves in the bottom half of the Turkish Super Lig and are closer to relegation than European places. Winning their Europa League group over Lazio, Marseille and Lokomotiv Moscow is the only bragging rights they can claim. It would require a Herculean effort for the Turkish giants to pull off the upset.

It has been a season of two stories for Barça. It took Xavi some time to adjust to his new role, but things are falling into place. Now third in LaLiga, they dispatched Napoli in the playoffs to get to the last 16. The highest ranked team left in the competition; the Catalans are looking much better than they did three months ago.

Based on what has been said, it goes without saying Barcelona are overwhelming favorites in the meeting. There really is not much more to add. I will go with the expected side to go through.

Next. Three talking points from Barcelona’s win over Elche. dark

The first legs will take place on Wednesday and Thursday this week, with the return legs the following Thursday. The seven ties occurring over the next week will surely produce quite the thrills. The Road to Seville continues with 14 more high-level matches on the way. The quarterfinal draw will happen on March 18.