Europa League Round of 32 Preview: Part 1

It’s been a long two months since we all last had a taste of European action, and our thirst for some of it has only been increasing since then; increasing to a point where we all can’t wait any longer! Just when we thought it wouldn’t get here fast enough, February’s finally here to quench our thirst for European football!

UEFA Europa LeagueFor many of us football lovers, February 14th signifies, more than anything, the resuming of some breathtaking European football; the kind of breathtaking football from which we derive a special kind of excitement we can’t find anywhere else in any domestic league anywhere in the world! While we all love the UEFA Champions League, there is no denying how entertaining its little brother, The UEFA Europa League can be.

There have been a few additions to the Europa League from the last time we saw it, and many of these additions have the potential to change the competition as we know it. Anyone who’s been in the Champions League is a strong opponent from the point of view of teams that were already in the Europa League, and more than anything else, the teams that were already there will be looking to prove themselves to these new entrants in the round of 32.

32 representatives from 16 different countries will compete against each other to claim the Europa League title, and below is my analysis on how all 16 round of 32 matches could go:

Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia) vs. Liverpool (England)

Luis SuarezLiverpool, having finished top of the table in group A, are not going to be an easy opponent. Brendan Rodgers’ men were able to overcome their strong group A opponents (strong because it was a tight group) and this, in my opinion, was their way of proving that they’re not about to give up on a chance to earn European glory anytime soon. Their performance, in my opinion, has been shaky, but they’ve managed to work on their weak areas & have tried to avoid making the same mistakes a second time. Their new addition, Daniel Sturridge, is another asset to the Liverpool team because of what he’s shown so far.

Zenit have had an okay season so far. Having been only just kicked out of the Champions League, despite having put some pressure on many teams, they will be looking to regain their honor. With a player like Givanildo de Souza (whom we all know and refer to as Hulk) on their side, Luciano Spalletti’s men will be feared by many opponents.

Key Players

For Zenit, you look at the likes of Danny & Hulk and know that you need to have a strong defense! Although these two weren’t anywhere near the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo & Yilmaz in terms of goalscoring records in the Champions League this season, they will get any opportunity to score and take it. Also, they have a strong midfield with characters like Shirokov & Faizulin in the picture. I think that if they work on their defensive problems and avoid allowing themselves to concede, everything will go their way.

For Liverpool, Jonjo Shelvey, who’s been absolutely brilliant in the competition, will be highly considered as a threat. Luis Suarez & Daniel Sturridge have started to strike great combos & could also put a lot of fear in the minds of the opposition. A midfield composed of Raheem Sterling and Sebastian Coates could also be interesting to watch! With the departure of Joe Cole to West Ham, Liverpool will be looking to fill his gap in European competitions appropriately.

Prediction

My prediction for the first leg of this match to be played at the Stadion Petrovski would be win for Liverpool. For the 2nd leg to be played at Anfield, I predict a 1-1 draw; meaning a Liverpool win on aggregate to take Liverpool to the Round of 16.

1st Leg: Zenit Saint Petersburg 1-2 Liverpool
2nd Leg: Liverpool 1-1 Zenit Saint Petersburg

SSC Napoli (Italy) vs. Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)

Edinson CavaniWhen you look at Napoli’s performance in the Serie A, you know that they are no walkover! Not only do they have a strong squad, they also have a desire to win trophies this season. Despite not being able to finish top of their group during the group stages and having won just three and lost three of their group-stage matches, they were really very strong competitors, and anyone who’s played against them would agree. Just because it’s been 24 years since they last won this title doesn’t mean that they won’t be one of the biggest competitors for it this year!

Plzen, in the same manner, have proven during every single match in this competition that they’re not going to let anyone come between them and the trophy. Having finished top of their group with 13 points, (the same group as the reigning champions, Atletico Madrid) they’ll be out to prove that they’re the biggest & toughest in the Czech Republic. Although some may argue that they were lucky, I believe that they’re everything but toothless competitors. It will most certainly be a very interesting match!

Key Players

Edinson Cavani! I’m sure he was the first to pop into your mind too! Having scored the most goals in the competition so far, how’s he not to be the first to pop into your mind? Absolute class! Eduardo Vargas (now on-loan from Napoli) was also another player with beautiful form for Napoli in the competition. Blerim Dzemaili will also be closely watched by the Plzen defense.

For Pavel Vrba’s men, two of the biggest threats will be Pavel Horvath & Daniel Kolar in midfield. Marek Bakos, on his great days, is also a delight to watch!

Prediction

My prediction for the first leg of this game to be played in Naples would be a tie. For the second leg of this match to be played in Plzen, I predict a crazy game with Napoli emerging as winners.

1st Leg: SSC Napoli 2-2 Viktoria Plzen
2nd Leg: Viktoria Plzen 1-3 SSC Napoli

Written by Ange Marline