The first legs of the Europa League play-offs will be played this Thursday. Here are five things to look out for.
Test of Burnley’s mettle
Burnley are now just one step away from achieving their dream of qualifying for the Europa League group stages. Standing in their way are Greek side Olympiacos, who are definitely much more experienced in Europe than their opponents. It will be a different test to what they have faced in the first two qualifying rounds of the competition so far. The Clarets overcame Aberdeen and Istanbul Başakşehir to reach the play-offs, but it will be a true statement of intent if they can beat a side of Olympiacos’ quality.
Rodgers’ Celtic out to prove a point in Europe
It might not be an outrageous thought that Celtic would rather be elsewhere than facing Süduva in the Europa League on Thursday night. Brendan Rodgers’ men started their campaign with their eyes on the Champions League group stages, but failure against AEK Athens means they have to settle for the inferior competition.
Former Liverpool boss Rodgers particularly, must be aware that his success at Celtic Park will be determined by how he performs in Europe. A run to the very late stages of the tournament would make up for missing out on the Champions League, and it has to start with victory against Süduva.
Sevilla back in the Europa League
One team that might not be too sad to be back in the Europa League is Sevilla. The Spanish side have spent the last two seasons in the Champions League. In the 2017/18 tournament they managed to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history after beating Manchester United in the round of 16.
Prior to that however, the Andalusians had won three consecutive Europa League titles. They will hope to replicate that kind of success once again this season, but they have to beat Czech Republic’s Sigma Olomouc in the play-offs first.
Gerrard’s revolution to continue
Steven Gerrard’s appointment as Rangers manager has been a resounding success so far. Despite this being his first job in management, he has overseen five victories and no losses whatsoever in his first nine competitive matches in charge. In that time, the Gers have gotten past Shkupi, Osijek and Maribor to reach the Europa League play-offs. The next hurdle is Ufa, who they host at Ibrox on Thursday. Gerrard will be confident that his side can beat the Russians and be guaranteed of at least another six European matches this season.
Leipzig to sample their first taste of Europa League play-offs
For RB Leipzig, having to go through the gruelling qualifying rounds of the Europa League might feel like a significant step back given that last year they were playing the likes of Monaco and FC Porto in the Champions League. In truth though, the fairytale is still quite remarkable for a club that only came into existence nine years ago and has seen a meteoric rise to the very top of European football. Thursday’s match against Zorya Luhansk will be their first taste of the Europa League play-offs and another marker of their progress, not a step back.