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UEFA Europa League: What to look out for in the knockout round play-off first legs | UEFA Europa League


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Barcelona’s presence has raised the profile of the UEFA Europa League knockout round play-offs considerably. Xavi Hernández’s side are in unfamiliar circumstances as they take on Napoli and, as such, can make a little bit of history; the five-time European champions won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup four times and the UEFA Super Cup three times, but the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League trophy has so far eluded them. They did, however, win its non-UEFA predecessor competition the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup three times.

Xavi’s charges side are not the only European royalty in this round. Of the 16 sides involved, only eight have not won a major continental club trophy: Atalanta, Braga, Dinamo Zagreb, Leipzig, Olympiacos, Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Sheriff. The other eight teams have eight European Cups, ten UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa Leagues, seven Cup Winners’ Cups and nine UEFA Super Cups between them.

Haaland going back to his roots

Erling Haaland may not be thrilled at missing out on a place in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 with Dortmund, but the 21-year-old can at least have an exciting trip down memory lane as he returns to the competition where he made his first European appearances, scoring four goals in five games as a 17-year-old in the course of Molde’s unsuccessful tilt at reaching the 2018/19 group stage.

Dortmund’s opponents Rangers should be aware that Haaland has already scored against Scottish opponents in this competition: twice in the course of a 3-0 aggregate win against Edinburgh side Hibernian in the third qualifying round in August 2018. Whoever is tasked with marking him in the first leg should also note that all four of his goals in this competition were scored at home.

Sheriff reaching for more stars

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Moldovan title holders Sheriff have already left their mark on European football this season, kicking off their maiden UEFA Champions League campaign with a 2-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk and an even more sensational 2-1 success at Real Madrid.

The Tiraspol side failed to make it to the next phase of that competition, but have had the huge consolation prize of making it to the spring phase of a European competiton for the first time, with 2010/11 runners-up Braga their guests. “There is a desire to move on,” said Sheriff’s Ukrainian coach Yuriy Vernydub. “We will prepare seriously and want to approach the matches in the best possible shape.”

Who awaits in the last 16?

Crvena zvezda (SRB)
Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)
Galatasaray (TUR)
Leverkusen (GER)
Lyon (FRA)
Monaco (FRA)
Spartak Moskva (RUS)
West Ham (ENG)

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Key dates

Seville's Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán will stage the final

Seville’s Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán will stage the finalGetty Images

Knockout stage
17 & 24 February: Knockout round play-offs
25 February: Round of 16 draw
10 & 17 March: Round of 16
18 March: Quarter-final & semi-final draws
7 & 14 April: Quarter-finals
28 April & 5 May: Semi-finals
18 May: Final (Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Sevilla)

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