The draw for the knockout phase play-offs in 2023/24 UEFA Europa League took place on Monday, December 18. For the record, only the teams that finished second in their UEFA Europa League groups and those who were third in their UEFA Champions League groups will go head to head in this round. The UEFA Europa League group winners, teams like Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen, have advanced straight to the round of 16 and will play against the winners of this play-off phase.
Although some of the bigger clubs will skip this round, the play-off draw has given us quite a few interesting pairings. The first leg and second leg are planned for February 15 and February 22 respectively.
UEFA 2023/24 Europa League Knockout Round Play-Offs
Feyenoord vs Roma
Feyenoord finished third in their UEFA Champions League group following three consecutive defeats in the closing weeks. The Dutch will now have to face AS Roma who could not finish above Slavia Prague in Group G, but let’s not forget that they reached the UEFA Europa League final last term. This will be one of the more balanced pairings in the play-offs.
Feyenoord and Roma played each other five times in the past, with three wins for the Italians, one for the Dutch and one draw. In 2021/22, Roma defeated Feyenoord 1-0 in the UEFA Europa Conference League final.
AC Milan vs Rennes
AC Milan dropped down to UEFA Europa League after finishing third in Group F, the UEFA Champions League group of death. Stefano Pioli’s men were tied on points with second-placed Paris Saint-Germain but had a worse head-to-head record.
Rennes are a good side but AC Milan have clashed with tougher opposition this term, so the Rossoneri should be seen as the favourites in this tie. It will be the first time that the two teams face each other in an official match.
Lens vs Freiburg
Lens and Freiburg are not the teams that you see too often in European competitions but they’ve been very solid in recent years and fully deserve their spots in the play-offs. Lens were third in their UEFA Champions League group, finishing one point below PSV. As for Freiburg, they could not keep up with West Ham in Group A, despite winning the remaining four matches.
Lens and Freiburg have never met in an official game before.
Young Boys vs Sporting CP
Young Boys shared their UEFA Champions League group with Manchester City and RB Leipzig, so they never stood a chance at advancing to the round of 16. Now in the UEFA Europa League, the Swiss will face off against Sporting CP, a very solid side despite the Lions finishing second behind Atalanta in Group D.
Sporting CP may be viewed as the better-placed team to advance to the UEFA Europa League round of 16, although they will probably need to spend more energy on their domestic league as well.
Benfica vs Toulouse
Speaking about the Portuguese league, Benfica are descending to UEFA Europa League after letting Inter Milan and Real Sociedad finish ahead of them in their UEFA Champions League group. Toulouse, who finished one point behind Liverpool in Group E and even beat the Reds at home, will be a worthy competitor.
This is the first time that Toulouse advanced to the knockout stage in UEFA Europa League. Similarly, it will be their debut competitive game against Benfica, who stand a better chance of advancing given their experience.
Braga vs Qarabag
The third Portuguese team in a row, Braga were also third in their UEFA Champions League group, behind Napoli and Real Madrid. As for Qarabag, they beat two Scandinavian teams to finish second behind Bayer Leverkusen in Group H.
Braga and Qarabag never went head to head in an official match before but the odds should be in favour of Braga given their better squad and frequent appearance in European competitions.
Galatasaray vs Sparta Prague
Galatasaray are in a weird place. They finished above Manchester United in their UEFA Champions League group, which is a positive sign. But the Turks could’ve advanced to the round of 16 had they defeated Copenhagen in the last round. Now they will get to face Sparta Prague who were second behind Rangers in UEFA Europa League Group B.
Galatasaray and Sparta Prague faced each other four times in the past, most recently in the 1997/98 season. The record is in favour of the Czeches, with two wins, one loss and one draw.
Shakhtar Donetsk vs Marseille
The clash between Shakhtar Donetsk and Marseille may turn out as one of the most balanced ones and the outcome will depend on who approaches the games in better form. Shakhtar Donetsk finished third in their UEFA Champions League group, even beating Barcelona at some point. As for Marseille, they placed second behind Brighton, outpacing Ajax and AEK Athens to the other qualifying spot.
Shakhtar and Marseille met in the 2008/09 UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, with the Ukrainians winning the tie 4-1 on aggregate. In fact, Shakhtar would go on to be crowned champions that year.
UEFA 2023/24 Europa League Outright Winner Odds
The favourites in the UEFA Europa League winners odds are Liverpool, who will skip the play-off round as they finished on top in Group E. Jurgen Klopp’s men are used to playing on two fronts – although it’s mostly been UEFA Champions League in recent years – so they know how to find the balance between domestic and international competitions. Based on names alone, Liverpool have the best squad in the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League.
Second in the race are Bayer Leverkusen, and Xabi Alonso’s men have been invincible in all competitions since the start of the 2023/24 campaign. The Germans topped Group H with six out of six wins, so their high placement on the UEFA Europa League winners odds is no surprise.
Another strong candidate for the title is AC Milan, the first team who descended from the UEFA Champions League to appear on the list. The Rossoneri reached the UCL semi-finals last term but could not keep up with the competition in this year’s group of death. AC Milan have a strong squad with some very experienced players, so they have all chances to advance far into the competition.
Other contenders worth mentioning are Brighton, who are playing their first ever season in Europe, as well as West Ham and AS Roma who reached the UEFA Conference League and UEFA Europa League final respectively last season. The Hammers took the trophy home whereas Jose Mourinho’s team was defeated by Sevilla.
|UEFA Europa League Winners