The UEFA Europa League 2022-23 has reached its break leading into the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and the competition has entered the Round of 16 with the following matchups: Barcelona v Manchester United, Juventus v Nantes, Sporting v Midtjylland, Shakhtar Donetsk v Rennes, Ajax v Union Berlin, Bayern Leverkusen v Monaco, Sevilla v PSV Eindhoven, and Red Bull Salzburg v Roma. The two-leg ties will be played on February 16th and 23rd.
The competition’s top goal scorers are Feyenoord’s Santiago Gimenez and Braga’s Vitinha (now at PSG), both at four goals while the two top assist men are Midtjylland’s Evander at five and Trabzonspor’s Anastasios Bakasetas.
The Barca-ManU matchup is the most compelling, pitching two top teams who fell on hard times and ended up in Europe’s second-tier continental competition. Both teams now have reinforced lineups and are in many ways the favorites to win the entire tournament so having to meet so early is a major event both had hoped to avoid until later in the competition. It will also be fun to experience the Ronaldo-v-Lewandowski matchup.
The Spanish giants and the perennial English top-five side were both looking to get into the next UEFA Champions League by winning the Europa League so this will be one of those extra-special competitions. Add to the mix whatever unexpected baggage comes back from World Cup 2022 in Qatar to the fact that the two teams do not have the friendliest of feelings toward one another and the makings of a great two games are already set.
The added piece of this puzzle will be the expected baggage to come in January, if not originating from the Qatar experience, then settled by it. Think of the number of potential top-player transfers, or mid-season manager switches, or how about the Super League fallout which could occasion administrative departures at the triumvirate clubs. What about the pre-event positioning that could take place surrounding Qatar in anticipation of the 2023 Kigali FIFA Congress (73rd) which will determine the new FIFA President? Who will contest Infantino? If the incumbent wins he has one more potential four-year term at the helm and the implications of a long bout as the uber-powerful leader might have early ripples, including potentially affecting the manner of managing the continental club competitions. A lot to think about.
Photo: UEFA Europa League Logo, Shutterstock ID: 338021690, by Ververidis Vasilis