The Europa League Round of 16 unseeded draw on February 24 saw heavyweights Lyon and Roma forced to battle for a quarter-final spot, in addition to an all-Belgian and all-German tie. First legs will be played on March 9, with the return fixtures on March 16.
Celta vs. Krasnodar
Celta failed to register a single shot on target at home during the first leg of their Round of 32 tie against Shakhtar Donetsk but hit 11 during the return fixture. Despite this, it took a ninetieth minute dive for a penalty to finally score.
Celta’s defence was continuously exposed, and they must sort themselves out against Krasnodar. However, despite Celta manager Eduardo Berizzo claiming that Krasnodar have “very good footballers,” Celta have better ones and should progress to the quarter-finals if they can coordinate their defence and midfield.
APOEL vs. Anderlecht
Giant killers APOEL and Anderlecht surprisingly dispatched of Athletic Bilbao and Zenit St Petersburg respectively. Coincidentally, both teams did so while averaging a pitiful 35 per cent of possession. Although APOEL have a more impressive defensive record, they have still faced 14 more shots than Anderlecht this European campaign, signalling their defensive vulnerability. Anderlecht to advance.
Schalke vs. Gladbach
Schalke tends to start games slowly, leaving them susceptible to attack, as evidenced by their Round of 32 matches against PAOK. In comparison, Borussia Mönchengladbach, also called Gladbach, smash and grab during the early exchanges of matches but often lack cutting edge.
Yet, even without key attacking duo Thorgan Hazard and Raffael, Gladbach managed to score four goals away to Fiorentina to advance 4–3. Die Fohlen manager Dieter Hecking has rejuvenated a previously underperforming team since his December appointment by not using wing backs, allowing wingers Patrick Herrmann and Hazard to bombard the flanks. This allowed forward Lars Stindl more room to operate, which led to his hat-trick heroics against Fiorentina.
Gladbach’s restructure will allow them to match Schalke’s admirable ability to control the ball. With Hazard and Raffael hopefully back to provide an attacking boost, I’d expect Gladbach to nullify Schalke’s possession-based game and progress.
Lyon vs. Roma
Lyon dismantled a hapless AZ 11–2 on aggregate in the Round of 32. Perhaps more impressively, the French outfit made five changes to their 4–1 first leg winning side and managed a 7–1 second leg victory.
In comparison, Roma made six changes to their 4–1 first leg winning side against Villarreal and lost the return 1–0, although key forward Edin Džeko did not play.
This is arguably the toughest tie of the Round of 16, with both teams boasting physically strong midfields. It’s unfortunate that one will have to bow out of the competition. Roma’s over-reliance on Džeko in the attack will be their downfall despite Lyon’s defensive troubles. Lyon’s attacking should allow them passage to the quarter-finals.
Rostov vs. Manchester United
Rostov brushed aside Sparta Prague 5–1 on aggregate to continue what has been a highly impressive European campaign. They finished third in their Champions League group behind heavyweights Atlético and Bayern Munich, claiming an incredible 3–2 victory against the latter.
Independent journalist Jack Pitt-Brooke claims they play “efficient football, maximising set-pieces and defending solidly.” United, on the other hand, have finally figured out how to win against teams that defend deep, like Rostov.
Although the Russian side should put up a tough battle, United have more attacking prowess and, thanks to manager José Mourinho, are also masters in parking the bus and wasting time when needed. United through.
Olympiacos vs. Beşiktaş
Beşiktaş have efficient forwards Vincent Aboubakar and Cenk Tosun, who each claimed a Man of the Match award in the Round of 32 games, while Olympiacos are a sturdy defensive unit that have conceded just six goals in eight Europa League games. Beşiktaş’ attack is more formidable than any team Olympiacos have played this season though, meaning the Turkish team should advance.
Gent vs. Genk
In the Round of 32, Gent claimed an impressive scalp by ousting Tottenham 3–2 on aggregate, whilst Genk squeezed through Astra Giurgiu by the same scoreline. Overall, Genk have succeeded more consistently against more challenging obstacles this European campaign.
Although they sold key players Leon Bailey and Wilfred Ndidi, Genk’s perfect European home record — winning all seven games and scoring 12 — and an impressive tally of 13 goals in seven away games should continue to see them advance.
København vs. Ajax
København claimed a 2–1 aggregate victory over a tough Ludogorets side, despite averaging just 39 per cent of possession. Conversely, Ajax achieved an average of 61 per cent of possession in their 1–0 aggregate victory over Legia Warszawa. Ajax should dominate possession, but København have a reliable defence that conceded just two goals in their six Champions League games. Danish champions to progress.