The Europa league is upon us and we’re joined by the Champions League dropouts. Let’s take a look at the fixtures.
Shakhtar Donetsk (Group F) vs Eintracht Frankfurt
After making it out of the Champions League group stage last year, reigning Ukrainian league champions Shakhtar Donetsk will be disappointed to have not made it through the knockout rounds again this year. However they did face quite a challenging group, doing well to finish in third place ahead of German side Hoffenheim.
Shakhtar are once again leading the Ukrainian league, by a comfortable margin, though they are another side that is yet to play a competitive game this calendar year. The last game the club played was their final group stage match with Lyon, which is an awfully long time to go without playing football, mid-season.
Frankfurt are coming into this game riding a high in the Europa League, as they cleaned out their group, finishing top of the table without dropping a single point. It was by no means an easy group either, taking on both Marseille and Lazio. The German side currently sit fifth in the Bundesliga, and come into this game on the back of an impressive run of form. They have only lost once since the turn of the year, and managed to take points away from both Borussia Dortmund and Red Bull Leipzig in the last two weeks.
Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller have been a nightmare for defenses to deal with this season, with Rebic picking up seven goals in the Bundesliga so far this season, along with Haller tallying an impressive 14 goals in 27 games (in the Bundesliga and Europa League). It will be interesting to see how Shakhtar cope with this dynamic front line.
Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt
Viktoria Pizen (Group G) vs Dinamo Zagreb
Not exactly the blockbuster tie of the knockout stage, however this game does pose some interesting matchups. Czech side Viktoria Pizen taking on Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb – for the very first time.
Pizen currently sit second in the Czech league, six points off the lead, however they are coming into this game riding an eight game unbeaten streak in all competitions. That streak includes wins over both Roma and CSKA Moscow, a fairly impressive streak.
Dinamo Zagreb are currently topping the table in the Croatian league, with a comfortable lead of over ten points. They are also coming into this game riding an eight game unbeaten streak, which includes a 7-2 thrashing of Rudes in the league. They have a resolute defense, coming through the group stage only conceding three goals – only Arsenal and Real Betis have conceded less in the tournament this season.
Prediction: Viktoria Pizen 0-2 Dinamo Zagreb
Celtic vs Valencia (Group H)
Valencia really drew the short straw with their Champions League group, being matched up with both Juventus and Manchester United. It would have taken a minor miracle for them to progress through the group stage. The Spanish side have been struggling a little in the league this season, after finishing fourth in the league last season, they’re currently languishing down in eighth place.
Despite their shaky start to the season, Valencia have only lost one of their last nine in all competitions – starting to finally find their feet. A similar story can be told for Celtic, winners of their last seven games – without conceding a single goal.
The Glasgow based side started the season poorly, not showing the conviction and smoothness fans had gotten used to under Brendan Rodgers. Finishing second in their Europa League group wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, however the Scottish side will still feel that this is a winnable tie for them.
It’ll be interesting to see if Valencia’s talented forwards can break down the solid Celtic back line. It’s always a big step up from competition in the Scottish Premier League to the Europa League and Champions League, however we have seen them shut out some of the biggest sides in the world at home in the past.
Prediction: Celtic 1-1 Valencia