Europa League heading for exciting conclusion with two rounds left
Thursday will see the 31 teams in the Europa League group stage continue their quest to progress into the knockout round.
One side has already been confined to last-place finish and thus are eliminated, with five teams potentially realizing that same fate after this round.
Six teams have guaranteed a top two spot already while eight others can clinch a spot in the Europa League knockout round. Seven teams can secure first place with a positive result.
Here is a preview of what is to come in this round, where clinching scenarios will be discussed.
Early kickoffs (18:45 CET)
Arsenal (12 points), PSV Eindhoven (7), Bodø/Glimt (4), FC Zürich (0)
A week after meeting in a rescheduled match, PSV will host Arsenal in the return meeting. The Gunners booked a top two spot courtesy of a narrow 1-0 win at home. Should they avoid defeat against the Dutch club, they will win the group and reach the Round of 16. PSV can qualify for the Europa League knockouts if they grab more points than Bodø on Thursday.
The other group game will pit together Bodø/Glimt and Zürich in Switzerland. The Norwegian side will qualify for knockout football in Europe as long as they do not lose. They must at least match PSV’s result to still have hopes of making this competition’s knockout round playoffs. They cannot win the group. Zürich can still finish third, but must win to have a shot at that heading into the last round. Failure to win will leave the Swiss champions eliminated from European football at the conclusion of the group stages.
Fenerbahçe (10), Rennes (10), AEK Larnaca (3), Dynamo Kyiv (0)
The top two in this group is already settled, as Fenerbahçe and Rennes will be the sides to move on from this section. The pair will square off in Istanbul, with the winner – should there be one – topping the group. A draw will leave keep the two on parity heading to the final Europa League group stage matchday with Fener holding the top spot by virtue of a better goal difference (+4 to +3).
AEK Larnaca hosts Dynamo Kyiv in the other game, knowing that a point will see the Cypriots finish third at the expense of their Ukrainian counterparts. That would allow them to play in the Europa Conference League knockout playoffs in February. Dynamo must win to stay in contention for third. They cannot snap up third this round.
Real Betis (10), Ludogorets (7), AS Roma (4), HJK Helsinki (1)
The top two in this section go at it as Real Betis heads to Razgrad to face off with Ludogorets. Already assured a place in the top half of the group, the Spanish club will win the section with a point. Ludogorets can join their opponents in the knockout stages should they earn more points than Roma on the night. Top spot cannot be clinched this round for the Bulgarians.
Roma has not impressed in the Europa League so far, but will travel to Finland to battle HJK. The Finnish champions cannot finish in the top two, and will require a win to remain in the running for third. Anything less will see them depart Europe after the group stage. The Giallorossi just needs to match Ludogorets’ result to have a shot at second spot going into the final round. This game will take place in the late time slot (21:00 CET).
Union St. Gilloise (10), Sporting Braga (7), Union Berlin (6), Malmö (0)
It has been a campaign to forget for Malmö. Already confined to last spot with two rounds to play, they host leaders Union St. Gilloise. The Belgians can top the section with a win or if both games in the group are drawn. They will also go through if the other match does not finish level. Not a bad first European showing for the Brussels-based Union, who boasts a 4-1-1 record through six continental matches.
Union Berlin welcome Sporting Braga in the other game in this section. Both sides need a victory to have a hope at top spot. That will mean nothing though if USG wins the other game. If Braga wins, they will move on, with the Germans finishing third in the group. Union Berlin cannot clinch second spot on Thursday regardless of what happens.
Late kickoffs (21:00 CET)
Real Sociedad (12), Manchester United (9), Sheriff Tiraspol (3), Omonoia Nicosia (0)
Real Sociedad is one of three teams to hold a perfect record through four games in this season’s Europa League. They travel to Cyprus to meet the cup winners Omonoia. La Real is already in the knockout stages, and can confirm top spot should they better Manchester United’s point haul on Thursday. Omonoia can no longer finish in the top two in this group, and must match or better Sheriff’s performance to stay in contention for third.
Speaking of Manchester United and Sheriff, the two will reconvene at Old Trafford. The Red Devils will progress in with a point, while the Moldovan champions need a win to keep up with their more fancied opponents for second spot. First place is no longer in the question for Sheriff. They will secure a European place going into next year if they better Omonoia’s showing on the night.
Feyenoord (5), Midtjylland (5), Lazio (5), Sturm Graz (5)
Yep, we have reached that group. All four teams are landlocked on five points, so no one can progress and no one can be eliminated after this round. One thing is true however: if one game has a winner (and a loser) while the other is drawn, the winning side will remain in Europe past November, while the losing side will be unable to top the section.
As for the matches in this round, Lazio hosts Midtjylland (18:45 kickoff), the former trying to avenge the Danes for the 5-1 smashing they took in Denmark. Feyenoord heads to Austria to face Sturm Graz, the same team they humiliated 6-0 in the reverse fixture. With how this group has gone, anything can happen on Thursday.
Freiburg (12), Qarabag (7), Nantes (3), Olympiakos Piraeus (1)
It has been an incredible start to the season for Freiburg, both domestically and in Europe. Already assured a place in the Europa League in early 2023, they will battle Olympiakos Piraeus, who have had a torrid season to this point. The Germans will top the group with a win and/or if Qarabag does not win. A draw is enough if the Azeris do not win. Olympiakos can still finish third at best, but will end up last in the group if they lose and Nantes win.
Qarabag battles Nantes in the other game, with the Azeri champions on the verge of a maiden knockout appearance in this competition. A single point will make that a reality. The Coupe de France winners need a win to remain in contention for second. They cannot win the group. They will be in Europe if they win and Olympiakos do not.
Ferencvaros (9), Trabzonspor (6), AS Monaco (6), Crvena zvezda (3)
This was always going to be a fascinating section, where Ferencvaros is ahead with two games to play. A point at home on Thursday will see them partake in Europe in the new year, while they will end up winning the group should they win and Trabzonspor does not win. Standing in the Hungarians’ way is AS Monaco, who can also book a place in knockout football if they outscore Crvena zvezda this round. They cannot guarantee a top two place though, regardless of the results in either match.
Trabzonspor and Crvena zvezda meet in Serbia, where the hosts must win to make sure they are not eliminated at the end of the round. They will remain in contention for a top two place with a win. They will be out of Europe altogether if they do not at least match Monaco’s result. Trabzonspor will progress with a victory plus a Monaco defeat. They need to match Fradi’s result to have hopes of topping the section.