The fourth round of matches for this year’s Europa League group stage will be played on Thursday night. Here are five things to look out for.
Chelsea and Arsenal to seal qualification
Thanks to the increased competition in the Premier League, there now seems to be a regular representation of top teams from the English top flight in the UEFA Europa League. This season, Chelsea and Arsenal have been flying the English flag in the competition. They have not disappointed either, with nine points apiece from their three matches so far.
Success in the Europa League now carries the promise of guaranteed Champions League participation in the subsequent season. As such, neither of the big guns can really take it lightly any more, especially as the race for the European spots in England appears to get tougher by the year. Both Chelsea and Arsenal could book a spot in the round of 32 by winning against BATE Borisov and Sporting respectively.
Watershed moment for Rodgers
It would be unfair to brand Brendan Rodgers’ time as Celtic manager a failure. He has after all, won six trophies in just two years at Celtic Park. The only challenge lies in that the Hoops were already a massively successful team domestically even before his arrival. His tenure was always going to be judged by how he helped them progress in Europe.
They were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage in his first two campaigns and they did not even qualify for that phase this season. After two defeats in their first three matches in the Europa League this year, Rodgers’ side are facing the prospect of another early exit from Europe. It will not bode well for the Northern Irishman if his team goes out at the hands of German dreamers RB Leipzig.
More gloom for Marseille
After making it to last season’s final, Marseille must have hoped to challenge for the ultimate prize once again this season. They have, however, found things much more difficult this time around as they struggle for form in Ligue 1 and in Europe. Rudi Garcia’s men are currently on a run of three consecutive losses in all competitions, including a 3-0 Europa League drubbing at home by Lazio two weeks ago.
They face the in-form Italians again, this time at the Stadio Olimpico, and things might get worse before they get better for Les Phocéens.
Chance for fringe players
For the very big teams, the Europa League is also usually a perfect platform to brood their young players at a competitive, European level. It is also usually a chance to rotate the squad and keep it fresh as well as give a chance to first team players who are short on game time. Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the standout example in the previous round of matches, as he took his rare chance and bagged a hat-trick against BATE. Danny Welbeck of Arsenal also scored the winner for the Gunners against Sporting. We are likely to see more of the same on match day four.
Potential new participants
Alongside Chelsea and Arsenal, perennial winners Sevilla as well as European giants AC Milan are among the current favourites for the title. There will be an influx in that pool in the coming weeks, as teams who finish third in their Champions League groups fall to the Europa League. English heavyweights Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool are some of the teams who are currently facing that prospect. Napoli and Paris Saint-Germain – from Liverpool’s very tight Champions League Group C – also know that one among them could end up in the Europa League come February.