The group stage of the Europa League is concluded. Today, we saw the big advantage of having the group clinched before the last matchday—Villarreal essentially played subs and B teamers in a meaningless 1-0 home loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Now that’s over with, we can look at the potential opponents for the next round.
Dropping in from the Champions League: The bottom 4 of the 8 (based on points and goal difference) are: Napoli, Spartak Moscow, Celtic, and Borussia Dortmund.
Of those, Spartak Moscow would be a travel/weather challenge (the round of 32 is played in February). Napoli would be the toughest of these teams, currently second in Serie A. We’ve done well against German clubs in recent years in knockout rounds, and Borussia Dortmund (6th in Bundesliga right now) would be a tantelizing matchup. But the one most all Villarreal fan want is Glasgow Celtic, due to the Celtic Submarí fan group and matches between the two teams in the past.
Qualifying 2nd in EL groups: The other clubs we could face are those that finished second in the EL. We can’t play a Spanish side, so Real Sociedad aren’t a possibility, and we can’t face a team we already faced in our group, so Astana is ruled out. These teams are:
Partizan and Red Star Belgrade (Serbia), Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria), AEK Athens (Greece), Lyon, Marseille, and Nice (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), and Östersund (Sweden).
Of those, we’ve played Steaua recently, and they were pretty good; either of the two Serbian sides would be tough because of their maniacal support at home, plus the Ceramica would doubtless need some extra policing; of the other clubs, Lyon and Marseille are having good seasons in France, Nice less so. Ostersund and Copenhagen would appear to be relatively easy draws, but who knows—they made it this far!
So here’s my list. What’s yours?
Teams I’d love to play: Celtic, obviously; Nice.
Teams I’d hate to play: Napoli, Lyon, either Serbian side.