Chelsea wrapped up our first ever Europa League group stage campaign with a 2-2 draw against Vidi FC in Hungary on Thursday. It was far from a perfect performance or scoreline, but it was essentially meaningless as Chelsea had already secured top spot in Group L, and a seeded spot in the draw for the Round of 32, the first knockout round.
WHAT: Europa League, Round of 32 draw
WHEN: Monday, December 17, 2018, 12:00 GMT; 7am EST — following the Champions League draw that’s set to start one hour before
WHERE: Nyon, Switzerland
ON TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); none (USA)
STREAMING: BT Sport Live (UK); Univision Deportes En Vivo, B/R Live (USA); UEFA.TV on YouTube
As in the Champions League, the knockout rounds are contested over two legs, home and away, but because of the number of teams, there’s an extra round in the Europa League — that’s one of the reasons Chelsea played over 60 matches the last time we were in this competition, winning the whole thing in 2013.
Finishing the group in first-place means that Chelsea are seeded for the draw and will contest the second leg at home. The first legs will be played February 14, the second just a week later on the 21st (except for Sevilla and Arsenal, who will play their home legs on Wednesday, the 20th, to avoid same-city conflicts with Real Betis and Chelsea, respectively).
The 16 seeded teams include the 12 group stage winners, plus the 4 highest ranked third-place finishers in the eight Champions League groups.
Chelsea (England), Napoli (Italy), Inter Milan (Italy), Valencia (Spain), Benfica (Portugal), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Salzburg (Austria), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Arsenal (England), Real Betis (Spain), Villarreal (Spain), Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), Genk (Belgium), Sevilla (Spain), Dinamo Kiev (Ukraine).
The 16 unseeded teams include the 12 group runners-ups, plus the 4 remaining third-place finishers from the Champions League group stages
Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Viktoria Plzeñ (Czech Republic), Club Brugge (Belgium), Galatasaray (Turkey), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Rapid Viena (Austria), Lazio (Italy), Malmö FF (Sweden), Krasnodar (Russia), Rennes (France), Fenerbahçe (Turkey), Slavia Prague (Czech Republic), Zürich (Switzerland), Celtic (Scotland), Olympiakos (Greece), BATE Borisov (Belarus).
As per Europa League rules, teams cannot be matched with clubs of the same country or association, or those who were part of their group. So from the 16 unseeded, only BATE Borisov are ruled out as potential opponents. Of the 15 remaining, Chelsea should be favored regardless of matchup, though some would be trickier than others — Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon, Galatasaray come to mind — while others would add a fair amount of travel (such as Krasnodar down by the Black Sea in Russia).
When Chelsea won the Europa League in 2013, we faced Sparta Prague (Rof32, 2-1 agg.), Steaua Bucharest (Rof16, 3-2 agg.), Rubin Kazan (q/final, 5-4 agg.), FC Basel (s/final, 5-2 agg.) and then Benfica in the final (2-1, in Amsterdam). All but the Basel semifinal were won by just the odd one-goal margin.
Who would you want to face in the Round of 32 this time around?