Twists and turns aplenty for Europa League group stage finales
The final round of this season’s UEFA Europa League group stage will take place on Thursday, where drama will surely transpire.
After five matches, four teams have snapped up top spot, while a further six have ensured a top two finish. One side has assured a third-place finish and will drop to the Europa Conference League, while four teams are eliminated with a game to play.
In this preview, you will find out who needs what to win their group, finish second, or even snap up third place and continue their European adventure in the Conference League.
For a reminder of who goes where following this stage of the competition, refer to the matchday one preview.
Early kickoffs (18:45 CET)
Real Sociedad (15 points) vs Manchester United (12)
Sheriff Tiraspol (3) vs Omonoia Nicosia (0)
Kicking things off with Group E, top honours as well as third place are both up for grabs.
Starting with the former, United will head to San Sebastian to battle Real Sociedad. The Red Devils lost 1-0 at home to the Spaniards on Matchday 1. In order to top the section, a win by at least two goals is required for Erik ten Hag’s side. Winning by one would leave La Real on top on goal difference. Failing to win makes Sociedad group winners.
As for Omonoia, the task is even more difficult. A victory by three goals or more in the Moldovan capital is needed to beat Sheriff out for third spot. The Cypriot cup winners fell to their Moldovan opponents 3-0 at home to kick off their group stage campaign. A top performance will be needed from them should they wish to continue in the Conference League.
Feyenoord (5) vs Lazio (8)
FC Midtjylland (5) vs Sturm Graz (8)
This group is easily the most entertaining in this season’s competition. Remarkably, all four teams can end up in any position come the end of the round.
Beginning with Feyenoord, it could not be any easier. A victory ensures they remain in Europe in 2023. Which competition and what round will depend on the other game. If Sturm Graz avoids defeat, the Conference League finalists from May would have to win by two goals or more to finish second. Otherwise, it will be third spot. If Feyenoord and Midtjylland both win, they will be the top two, with the tiebreaker being decided on goal difference. Currently, the Dutch side has the slight edge of +3 to +2. If they both lose, the same thing applies, but to figure out third and fourth spot.
For Midtjylland, everything is basically identical to the scenarios listed for Feyenoord. However, should they win and Lazio avoid defeat, second place would be theirs. Such a result would leave both Midtjylland and Sturm Graz level for second on 8 points, with the former either having the tiebreaker on goal difference (if they win by one goal) or head-to-head (should they win by more than one goal). Outside of that, everything else is identical to that of Feyenoord.
As for Sturm Graz and Lazio, a draw is enough for a top two finish. If one outdoes the other regarding points won, they will win the group. Should they both lose, goal difference will decide who will go to the Europa Conference League (in that case, Lazio has a GD of -1 to Sturm Graz’s -4). The same idea applies if both were to win. Should both matches end level, Lazio will top the section on GD. If Sturm loses and Lazio does not, they will finish third. If Lazio loses by one goal and Sturm avoids defeat, the Italians will finish second. If they lose by more than one goal in that scenario, they will take third spot.
Qarabag (7) vs Freiburg (13)
Olympiakos Piraeus (2) vs Nantes (6)
Qarabag failed last time out to secure second spot in the group. They host section winners Freiburg, knowing a win will allow the Azeri champs to join the German side in the knockout round. As long as Nantes does not pass them on points, second spot will belong to Qarabag.
The Coupe de France winners Nantes head to Greece to face an Olympiakos team who has failed miserably in Europe this season. The Greek Super League holders have the task of playing spoilers. The French side must win and hope that Qarabag does not. That is the only way for Les Canaries to end up second. Failure to win will see them finish third and continue their European campaign in the Europa Conference League.
Trabzonspor (6) vs Ferencvaros (10)
AS Monaco (7) vs Crvena zvezda (6)
Ferencvaros heads into the round already knowing that whatever happens they will end up winning the group. They cannot be passed by Monaco as they own the head-to-head between the two. The Hungarians travel to Turkey to face Trabzonspor, who still has everything to play for.
The Turkish champions must win to have knockout football. If Monaco wins, then third place is the ceiling for Karadeniz Fırtınası. If Trabzonspor and Crvena zvezda end up level on points, it will depend on goal difference and, if necessary, goals scored. The Turks currently have the advantage on goals scored. Finally, if they draw and Monaco loses, then Trabzonspor will finish third on head-to-head.
Monaco hosts Crvena zvezda needing just a point to achieve knockout football of some sort. A point will be enough for second if Fradi avoids defeat. A win will also be enough for Philippe Clement’s men. A defeat will see them crash out of Europe unless Trabzonspor also loses. Crvena zvezda will take second spot if they beat Monaco and Trabzonspor does not win, or if they have a better goal difference. Third place will belong to the Serbs if they draw and Trabzonspor loses, if both games end level, depending on the goals scored.
Late kickoffs (21:00 CET)
Arsenal (12) vs Zürich (3)
Bodø/Glimt (4) vs PSV Eindhoven (10)
Things are much easier to determine in this section. Arsenal and PSV have the top two spots locked up, with first place still up for grabs. The Dutch club will top the group if they win and Arsenal does not. Any other result will leave the Gunners as section winners.
For third place, Bodø has a point advantage over Zürich. The only realistic chance for the Swiss champions to pass the Norwegians is by winning while Bodø do not. If they end up level on points, goal difference will determine third, with Bodø having a sizeable advantage in this department (-4 to -10).
Stade Rennais (11) vs AEK Larnaca (4)
Dynamo Kyiv (1) vs Fenerbahçe (11)
Third place belongs to AEK Larnaca as Dynamo Kyiv can only match their points tally, but would lose out on head-to-head. The only thing left to be decided is who will win the group between Stade Rennais and Fenerbahçe.
Both sides are on 11 points through five games, having drawn against each other in both meetings. However, Fener has scored more goals than their French counterparts, leaving them on top. If both games are drawn, the Turkish side will win the section. Otherwise, it will go down to goal difference or even (away) goals scored between the two.
AS Roma (7) vs Ludogorets (7)
Real Betis (13) vs HJK Helsinki (1)
Roma takes on Ludogorets needing to win to pip the Bulgarians for second. As Ludo won 2-1 on Matchday 1, a draw is all they need to keep second spot and stay in Europa League. One way or another, both sides will take part in the knockout round playoffs in Europe come February and March. It is just a matter of which competition.
Real Betis and HJK will square off in Spain with nothing up for grabs regarding the group. The Spaniards have already won top spot. The recently crowned Finnish winners will end last in the group. Coefficient points will be crucial for Finland though, so HJK will certainly want to win this one and end their season on a high.
Union St. Gilloise (13) vs Union Berlin (9)
Sporting Braga (7) vs Malmö (0)
We end in Group D, where Union St. Gilloise and Malmö have the task of playing spoilers in their respective matches. The former have won the group, with the latter set to finish last.
Union Berlin and Braga have hopes of second place, the Germans currently holding the advantage. The Bundesliga pacesetters will join the other Union club if they win and/or Braga does not. The Portuguese will take second if they win and Union Berlin does not. While the head-to-head offset, Braga would progress by virtue of owning a better goal difference.