The opening weeks of the Europa League may not be littered with matches which scream elite continental competition.
But after slogging through meetings between unseeded teams in the group stage – it would be cruel to name names but you know which clubs we’re talking about (or rather, you don’t know them, which is the point) – the knockout stages serve as an intriguing second act to each week of European football after the Champions League main event.
Now to down eight teams, it’s time for those remaining to start dreaming of European glory and a potential place in the top tier of continental competition next season. Here’s the favourites to succeed Eintracht Frankfurt as champions.
The real underdog left in the competition is plucky Belgian minnows Union Saint-Gilloise, who are continuing to go from strength to strength.
A thrilling round of clash with surprise Bundesliga package Union Berlin resulted in a nine-goal thriller over two legs, won by Saint-Gilloise 6-3 on aggregate.
Their prolific goalscoring ability will be an obstacle for any opponent to overcome, though they fall some way short of the mark in terms of pedigree at this stage.
It’s been a truly sensational season for Feyenoord and their manager Arne Slot, who currently top the Eredivisie table ahead of usual suspects Ajax and PSV Eindhoven.
The Rotterdam giants have lost just one game in the league so far, and their fine domestic form has carried over onto the European stage. In the last 16, Shakhtar Donetsk were absolutely walloped 8-2 on aggregate – a real statement performance from a side who will fancy their chances of upsetting anyone.
When Sporting CP drew Arsenal in the round of 16, many assumed that Ruben Amorim’s side would be overpowered by a team full of confidence from topping the Premier League table.
But the Portuguese giants didn’t read the script, and after Pedro Goncalves’ audacious equaliser forced the tie into extra-time and then penalties, they came out on top after coolly dispatching all five of their spot-kicks.
Rule them out at your peril.
Any other club enduring the domestic campaign Sevilla have been slogging through this year would have no…
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