Some big horses may have fallen, but the 2016 Europa League Last 16 still possesses enough European big guns to promise a thrilling round of matches in this season’s competition. Among the ties features a very first meeting in Europe between England’s two largest clubs, a fascinating All-Spanish affair, and no fewer than ten countries represented (including four from Spain and three from England).
Big Guns Drawn Together
Undoubtedly the main attraction of the round is the first ever meeting in European competition between England’s two most successful clubs (both domestically and in Europe), Liverpool and Manchester United. Neither side may be a vintage representative of these two great clubs, with both currently residing outside the top-4 places in their domestic league, and both somewhat lacking in world class players in comparison to years gone by but, what has certainly not changed over the years is the fierce passion of the respective supporters, and the intense rivalry that burns between two clubs situated little more than 50 kilometres apart. With the first leg at Anfield, and United currently sitting one place above their great rivals domestically, it may well be the side from Manchester who approach the game a slight favourites, but with a Champions League place offered to the winners of this competition, and qualification far from guaranteed with regards to domestic league performance, there is a great deal at stake for these two sides.
Other Fascinating Encounters
Another all domestic affair sees struggling Valencia, under the tutelage of ex-Manchester United great Gary Neville, visit the Basque country and Bilbao, where Athletic are their hosts. Once again, both sides find themselves way off the automatic Champions League qualification births in their domestic league, so Europa League success representatives a large carrot for each side. Indeed, with both sides also eliminated from the Copa Del Rey, this is the last shot at silverware for either team, and Gary Neville in particular may need it if he is to secure his tenure at the Mestella. Meanwhile, Europa League favourites Borussia Dortmund face a difficult task against one of the English Premier League’s surprise packages from this season, Tottenham Hotspur. Indeed, it is second in the Bundesliga versus second in the English top flight, with both sides trailing the first-placed sides, Bayern Munich and Leicester City respectively, by five points. With so much riding domestically, it will be interesting to see what kind of line-ups each team fields for these encounters, especially with big league games to come – squad strength will certainly be tested.
The Full Line-Up
Elsewhere, there is plenty to get excited about. Turkish Super Lig leaders Fenerbahce, boasting the likes of Robin Van Persie and Nani in their ranks, will host Portuguese side Braga, currently fourth in the Primiera Liga, in their first leg match. FC Basel, whose St. Jakob-Park will host the May final, welcome winners from the last two seasons Sevilla, outsiders Sparta Prague will host Serie A’s final representative Lazio, while Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk will entertain Anderlecht. To complete the set, there will be an intriguing game in the Estadio El Madrigal as Villarreal, currently flying high in fourth place in La Liga host German side Bayer Leverkusen. As an interesting aside, five of this season’s Champions League Group stage drop-outs have reached this juncture, but none will face off.
Full list of Last 16 ties (Qualification odds)
Athletic Bilbao 1.72 V Valencia 2.10
FC Basel 4.00 V Sevilla 1.25
Borussia Dortmund 1.40 V Tottenham Hotspur 2.87
Fenerbahce 1.57 V Braga 2.37
Liverpool 1.80 V Manchester United 2.00
Shakhtar Donetsk 1.50 V Anderlecht 2.62
Sparta Prague 2.87 V Lazio 1.40
Villarreal 1.83 V Bayer Leverkusen 1.83
To Win Outright
Borussia Dortmund 4.75
Manchester United 11.00
Tottenham Hotspur 11.00
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 20.00 GMT on Tuesday 08/03/2016
By: Steve Paget