With the first knockout round of the Europa League kicking off this week, we’re going to be taking a look at the teams that have dropped into the competition after being knocked out of the Champions League group stage (any team that finished third in their Champions League group is automatically entered into the Europa League knockout stages). So without further ado, let’s get into it, and check out the fixtures.
Club Brugge (CL Group A) vs Red Bull Salzburg
After the Champions League draw, Group A was immediately a standout group. Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco… and Club Brugge. It was a toss up as to who would go through and who would go out, until we realised how truly awful Monaco have been this season.
Brugge came through Group A in third place, with a total of six points, and currently sit second in the Belgian league. Brugge have been a little inconsistent in the league since the turn of the year, only taking one win in their first four games of 2019. Salzburg on the other hand stormed through Group B, winning all six of their games and scoring 17 goals in the process. The Austrian outfit are currently unbeaten in the league, taking 15 wins in their first 18 games. As well as not losing in the league, Red Bull are currently unbeaten in all competitions this season, and have been tearing apart almost all competition that they have faced.
With both Wesley and Siebe Schrijvers leading the line for Brugge, bagging a combined 21 goals in all competitions so far this season, there will be plenty of attacking threat for the Belgian side. However Salzburg have scored in each of their last 25 matches, having to go back to the Champions League qualification first leg against Red Star Belgrade for the last time that they failed to score in a game.
This will be the first time that the two teams have ever faced eachother, which always makes for an interesting encounter as they try to figure eachother out. I can see Salzburg taking the win in this one, likely to come out with a one or two goal lead heading into the second leg.
Prediction: Club Brugge 0 – 2 Red Bull Salzburg
Rapid Wein vs Inter Milan (CL Group B)
Rapid Wein were something of a surprise package in their Europa League group, as they finished second, level on points with first placed Valencia. Despite their strong performance in Europe however the Vienna based club have been struggling in the league this season. They currently sit in eighth place after 18 games, not looking likely to be climbing up the table.
In what seems like almost a lifetime ago in the footballing world, Inter were knocked out of the Champions League on the very last matchday, as Tottenham managed to squeak their way through into the knockout rounds. Inter are another team coming into their Europa League game in patchy form, however they should have more than enough to overpower their competition in the away leg. I’m expecting a comfy win for the Italians.
It will also be interesting to see if Wein come into this game with any kind of rust, as they are yet to play a game this year, with their last match being played in December (a 6-1 loss). However it may work the opposite way, they may come into this game as the fresher side and be able to push the pace, really taking the play to Inter. Though it does seem unlikely.
Prediction: Rapid Wein 0 – 3 Inter Milan
FC Zurich vs Napoli (CL Group C)
FC Zurich managed to qualify for the knockout rounds via Group A, which was one of the weaker Europa League groups this year – finishing in second, behind Bayer Leverkusen. They’re currently fourth in the Swiss Pro League and not quite replicating the form that saw them qualify for the Europa League last season.
Napoli are sitting in second place in the Seire A, once again behind leaders Juventus, though they have a 10 point cushion to third placed Inter Milan. The Blues are coming into this game on the back of some strong performances to start the year, picking up four wins in their last seven games.
Napoli will be coming into this game after losing one of their longest serving, and most productive players. Marek Hamsik completed a move to the Chinese Super League this week, and will likely be a miss for the Italian side, leaving as the top scorer in club history.
Again, I can’t see this going any other way than a comfortable Napoli victory. They seem to be scoring goals for fun in the league this season, so things could get a little ugly for FC Zurich if they don’t keep their defense together.
Prediction: FC Zurich 0 – 4 Napoli
Benfica (Group E) vs Galatasaray (Group D)
Well… this is an interesting one. Two teams that were knocked out of the Champions League group stages come head to head in the first Europa League knockout round. Both sides are strong contenders in their native leagues, but perpetual strugglers in the Europe.
Benfica are currently embroiled in a battle at the top of the Portuguese League, just one point behind current leaders Porto. Winning the league would mark a triumphant return, after only one year without the crown. Drawn in Group E, alongside Ajax and Bayern Munich, it was always going to be interesting to see which teams progressed. Unfortunately for Benfica, they couldn’t quite outperform Ajax and find themselves falling into one of the more challenging ties at this stage of the tournament.
Galatasaray are the reigning champions in Turkey, however they find themselves in second place behind surprise contenders Istanbul so far in this years campaign. Some fans and pundits were surprised to see the Turkish side drop out of the Champions League, as they certainly had one of the more favourable groups in the tournament. However a resurgent Porto, who made it through the groups without losing a game, and an impressive Schalke side was enough to drop them into the Europa League.
It’s going to be an extremely interesting game, and a hard one to predict. Both sides have a rich history in their respective leagues, and have won titles in the past two years. Despite both sides regularly featuring in European football, neither have lifted either the Champions League or Europa league since Galatasaray last won in 2000. Could we see one of these two sides go the distance?
Prediction: Benfica 2-1 Galatasaray