The final 16 teams in the Europa League get set to face off on ties that will straddle the weekend playing today and then next Thursday as well. As of yet, none of the title favorites have hit each other, but Eintracht Frankfurt and Inter could have the most interesting draw. The teams that advance from this round will likely face a stern test from some of Europe’s elite in the quarterfinal stage.
March 7/March 14
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Benfica
Dinamo Zagreb into this match having overturned a first leg deficit where they grabbed a crucial away goal against Viktoria Plzen. Domestically, they are soaring, and with their league match against second-place Rijeka on a Sunday, the Croatian side will have an extra day of rest which could give them an edge in the second leg away from home. Benfica are a side who historically put on a decent showing in Europe and they secured a 2-1 aggregate victory by shutting up shop at home in the second leg against Galatasary. Domestically, the title race is on with Porto, and with a game on Monday, the Portuguese giants will hope to bag an away goal or two before returning home for the second leg.
Prediction: Benfica advancing 3-2 on aggregate
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Inter
Eintracht Frankfurt got through what ended up being a nervy away tie against Shakhtar Donestk thanks in large part to the two away goals they bagged before smashing their Ukrainian opposition 4-1 in the second leg to secure a comfortable progression to the next round. If they can keep Inter off the scoresheet in the first leg, that will go a long way in making life easier in the second leg. Inter easily dispatched of Rapid Wien 5-0 in the Round of 32, but they have found things difficult since then. Their talisman Mauro Icardi has held himself out of training following his removal as Inter’s captain, but he is expected to rejoin training meaning he could feature in the second leg.
Prediction: Eintracht Frankfurt advance 4-2 on aggregate
Stade Rennes vs. Arsenal
Stade Rennes are yet to play this month which is a huge advantage for them over their English opponents. Everything thus far for Rennes has exceeded all expectations for a team currently sitting in the middle of the Ligue 1 table, and advancing in the competition would only add to the excitement around the team. Arsenal have been in the position of being doubted after struggling against inferior opposition, namely Ostersunds in last year’s knockout stages. They will have played a tough tie against Manchester United this weekend before the home leg, but squad rotation may be key along with the ability to create an away goal advantage.
Prediction: Arsenal advance 4-1 on aggregate
Sevilla vs. Slavia Prague
Sevilla dispatched of Lazio in the prior round of the competition 3-0 on aggregate in a result that was somewhat shocking considering the consistency Lazio have displayed. Domestically, things aren’t going as well for the Spanish side, but they still have hope of securing an European place. Slavia Prague were held to a goalless draw against Genk in the past round before they defeated their opponents 4-1 on the road. Domestically, they are still king, and will likely focus their efforts on this tie.
Prediction: Sevilla advance 3-1 on aggregate
Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Villarreal
Zenit narrowly escaped the last round against Fenerbahce needing to win 3-1 at home to progress 3-2 on aggregate. They are currently in first place in the Russian Premier League with second place FC Krasnodar also in the Round of 16. Villarreal are struggling in La Liga at the moment as they sit in the relegation zone with the matches dwindling away. They have so far cruised in Europe with their 2-1 aggregate victory being their sternest test to date.
Prediction: Zenit advance 2-2 on aggregate (away goals rule)
Chelsea vs. Dynamo Kyiv
Chelsea advanced 5-1 on aggregate in what has been a stress-free campaign in Europe so far this term. Their bigger test is the race for Champions League qualification with a top-four finish or winning this competition, but being in the middle of both, they can’t write the league off quite yet. Dynamo Kyiv have historically fared well in Europe and they scraped past Olympiacos 3-2 on aggregate, but had two important away goals to ease their troubles. Domestically, they remain a top contender in Ukraine and will likely secure berth either in this competition or the Champions League next term.
Prediction: Chelsea advance 4-1 on aggregate
Napoli vs. Salzburg
Napoli eased through the past round 5-1 on aggregate and the Champions League drop-downs have a chance for European glory now that they are one of the big fish in this competition. With the Serie A title race all but over, and a top four finish relatively likely, they will probably continue fielding strong squads in Europe aiming to win this competition. Salzburg advanced 5-2 on aggregate following their 4-0 drubbing of Club Brugge in the last round. They are also comfortably atop the Austrian Bundesliga, so Europe will also be a main focus.
Prediction: Napoli advance 4-3 on aggregate
Valencia vs. FC Krasnodar
Valencia negotiated their way past Celtic 3-0 on aggregate where they were easily the superior team. In Spain, they have clawed their way back into the hunt for a European place, but with a two-sided fight on their hands, it could impact their European campaign. FC Krasnodar were the beneficiaries of the away goals rule to get to this point, but they are still a formidable threat to Valencia. They are vying for the Russian Premier League title, and will hope to continue going strong at home and abroad.
Prediction: FC Krasnodar advance 1-1 on aggregate (away goals rule)