The draw for the last 16 of this season’s Europa League has been made at UEFA headquarters in Switzerland.
The eight teams that had won their groups back in November were seeded – meaning that they will play the second leg of their ties away from home. And they will play the eight teams that had won their round of 32 games, which concluded this week.
Manchester United’s reward for beating Barcelona is a tie against the Spanish side Real Betis, whilst fellow Premier League side Arsenal have Portuguese opposition, in the form of Sporting Lisbon.
The ties will be played on successive Thursdays, March 9th and March 16th.
Sevilla, the most successful team in the history of the competition – they have appeared in six finals and won all of them – have been drawn against Fenerbahçe of Turkey.
Meanwhile, Juventus will play Freiburg of the Bundesliga. The Italian side won away at French side Nantes thanks to a hat-trick from Angel di Maria, and winning the Europa League now appears their best hopes of getting back into the Champions League again next season, after they were hit by a 15 point penalty by the Italian Football Federation.
The other Italian team left in the competition, Jose Mourinho’s Roma, will play Real Sociedad of Spain.
The Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, who, because of the armed conflict in their country have been forced to play their home matches in Poland, will face Feyenoord, the runners-up in the tournament last year, beaten by Frankfurt in the final.
Meanwhile, Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen will face Ferençvaros from Hungary.
And, first out of the hat were two surprise teams from their respective leagues, who have no experience of being in such exalted European company, Union Berlin of Germany against Union Saint-Gilloise of Belgium, who are co-owned by the same man who owns the Premier League side, Brighton, Tony Bloom.
United will still be celebrating after overcoming Barcelona in their round of 16 tie at Old Trafford, despite trailing at half-time to a penalty by Robert Lewandowski. Fred equalised and then second half substitute Antony scored what proved to be a winner.
It was a blow for Barcelona’s own finances though – it is the first time since 1998/1999 they have not made at least the round of 16 of any European competition.
Erik ten Hag’s side will be hoping that, by the time that they face Betis that they will already have tasted champagne. They face Newcastle United at Wembley on Sunday in the League Cup final, the first major final of the English domestic season.
Although it is very good for the club to be involved on so many fronts at the same time, United may want to heed the warnings of Liverpool, who found themselves in a similar situation last season, finishing runners-up in the league, and reaching three cup finals, winning two of them.
However, they seemed to have paid for that this season, with suggestions that they are suffering from mental as well as physical fatigue.
This will be the third time that Arsenal have faced Sporting in the history of the competition in its various guises, Back in 1969, when it was still known as the Fairs Cup they beat the Portuguese side 3 – 0 on aggregate. More recently in the group stages in the 2018/2019 season the Gunners won by a single goal in Lisbon, and then the two played out a goalless draw in North London.
It also offers Arsenal a chance to meet up with one of their former players – right-back Hector Bellerín who joined Sporting from Barcelona in June.
Does being draw away first matter?
In theory it is regarded favourable to be drawn away from home first. A team knows exactly what they have to do before the reverse fixture, and, should the match go to extra time, they will have the backing of the home fans.
The statistics, though, suggest that there is not much in it, and there are drawbacks to playing at home, as Arsenal found the last time that they got to the latter stages of the Europa League in 2021.
Trailing 2 -1 to Villarreal of Spain after the first leg of their semi-final, they were widely expected to overcome the La Liga aide at the Emirates. However, having failed to secure an early breakthrough, the pressure on them grew, and they were unable to find the net in the end,
Villarreal would go on to beat United in penalties.
And the abolition of the away goals rule as negated the difference between the first and second legs even further. Now there is not the same jeopardy in conceding at home in the first leg, nor the same reward for the team on their travels.
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