The round of 32 in the Europa League is, for me, cup football at its purest. You get the most fascinating ties possible, teams that you would have a very difficult time watching anywhere else. I’ll probably spend 2-3 days just watching extra matchups from today. Belgian football meets Scottish football, Israeli football meets Ukrainian football, Greek football meets Dutch football, Russian football meets Croatian football, and of course our own matchup: Austrian football meets Spanish football. The Champions League simply isn’t this varied, understanding the intricacies of style and form in the Europa League is far more esoteric, and rivals are created out of parties that would never be brought together otherwise. PSG and Barcelona are just as likely to meet in a preseason tournament in America as they are to meet in the Champions League knockouts, but if you want Royal Antwerp versus Rangers? That only happens here.
We had as active a comment section as we’ve had for a match preview in a long time. That happened because we are in the middle of our worst run of form of the season. Expectations are high, and fans currently feel like they aren’t being met. But seasons are long, crests and valleys of form happen, and we have the experience necessary on this roster to right the ship. It all begins today with a trip to Austria.
Frankly, the Europa League is all that’s left. Fans on the more critical side of things are absolutely right when they say we didn’t hire Emery to simply qualify for Europe, we were doing that already. He’s here to win these ties. It’s time he does it.
VILLARREAL: Rulli; Peña, Albiol. Pau, Estupiñán; Parejo, Trigueros, Capoue, Moi, Alcacer, Gerard.
RB SALZBURG: Stankovic; Kristensen, Vallci, Solet, Ulmer, Sucic, Junuzovic, Mwepu, Aaronson,Berisha, Daka.