The Europa League may be Europe’s secondary club competition behind the lucrative UEFA Champions League, but the entertainment value and drama should ratchet up significantly after the changes made to the 2021-22 tournament to make it more exclusive and competitive.
One of those changes was the introduction of a playoff stage before the Round of 16. The eight Champions League third-place teams that in the past just walked into the Europa League’s knockouts as a consolation prize, will now have to prove they belong through playoff matches. Gone is the inflated Round of 32 that allotted slots for those Champions League underachievers to drop in — the Europa League knockouts will now start with the Round of 16, and half of the participants will come via the playoffs.
That playoff draw took place on Monday, Dec. 13. Here’s how it worked and which teams were involved.
|Match||Home team – 1st leg||Home team – 2nd leg|
|1||Sevilla FC||vs||Dinamo Zagreb|
|3||RB Leipzig||vs||Real Sociedad|
|5||FC Zenit||vs||Real Betis|
|7||FC Sheriff Tiraspol||vs||Sporting Braga|
Europa League playoff draw
In the past, the Champions League third-place teams dropped into the Europa League knockouts because they were deemed to be deserving based on the quality and credentials that allowed them to qualify for Europe’s premier competition in the first place. Beginning this season, they’ll have to earn their spot in the Europa League Round of 16.
Those eight Champions League teams were drawn against the eight Europa League group runners-up in playoff series that will be played over two legs on Feb. 17 and Feb. 24. The team with the most goals in each series will officially clinch a berth into the Round of 16.
|Pot 1: Europa League Group Runners-up||Pot 2: Champions League 3rd place|
|Rangers (Group A)||RB Leipzig (Group A)|
|Real Sociedad (Group B)||Porto (Group B)|
|Napoli (Group C)||Borussia Dortmund (Group C)|
|Olympiakos (Group D)||FC Sheriff Tiraspol (Group D)|
|Lazio (Group E)||Barcelona (Group E)|
|Sporting Braga (Group F)||Atalanta (Group F)|
|Real Betis (Group G)||Sevilla (Group G)|
|Dinamo Zagreb (Group H)||FC Zenit (Group H)|
Only eight names from the 16 above will advance from the playoffs to the Round of 16, where they will meet the Europa League group winners. Here are those eight group winners which are set to kick back and watch the playoffs unfold in anticipation of their opponents:
|Europa League Group||Winners|
|Group A||Olympique Lyon|
|Group B||AS Monaco|
|Group C||Spartak Moscow|
|Group D||Eintracht Frankfurt|
|Group F||Red Star Belgrade|
|Group G||Bayer Leverkusen|
|Group H||West Ham United|
Europa League playoff draw details
The Europa League knockout playoff draw was held on Dec. 13 at 7 a.m. ET from the UEFA headquarters in Switzerland.
The eight Europa League group runners-up (Pot 1 above) were seeded for purposes of the draw. They made up one pot, while the other pot contained the third-place group finishers from the UEFA Champions League.
The two key details in this playoff draw:
- Teams from the same country cannot be drawn against one another (see table below);
- The Europa League group runners-up will host the second leg of each playoff series. This is perceived to be an advantage because, if an extra-time session or penalty-kick shootout is needed after Leg 2, it would happen on home soil.
Europa League playoff qualifiers by country
Between the eight Europa League group runners-up and the eight Champions League third-place teams, there are a total of 16 teams involved in the knockout round playoffs.
All 16 spots are already accounted for. Here’s the breakdown by country:
|Spain||4||Real Betis, Sevilla, Barcelona, Real Sociedad|
|Italy||3||Atalanta, Napoli, Lazio|
|Germany||2||Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig|
|Portugal||2||Porto, Sporting Braga|
|Moldova||1||FC Sheriff Tiraspol|
|Russia||1||FC Zenit Saint Petersburg|
The two legs of the Europa League knockout round playoffs will be played on Feb. 17 and Feb. 24.
The eight teams left standing after the playoffs will participate in the Europa League Round of 16 draw on Feb. 25. The quarterfinal draw on March 18 will determine the rest of the bracket through to the final in Sevilla on May 18.
Europa League Round of 16 schedule
We will learn the Round of 16 matchups at the Feb. 25 draw, taking place the day after the conclusion of the knockout playoffs. And after a three-month wait, the eight Europa League group winners will finally return to action, taking on the eight knockout round playoff survivors.
Round of 16, 1st Legs
|Date||Match||Time (ET)||TV channels||Stream|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #1||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #2||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #3||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #4||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #5||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #6||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #7||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 10||Round of 16 #8||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
Round of 16, 2nd Legs
|Date||Match||Time (ET)||TV channels||Stream|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #1||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #2||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #3||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #4||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #5||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #6||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #7||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
|Thurs, March 17||Round of 16 #8||3 p.m.||TBD||fuboTV, Paramount+|
Who will win the UEFA Europa League 2021-22?
As the tournament progresses, the oddsmakers will be constantly adjusting the future prices for each team when it comes to winning the Europa League.
Here are the latest odds courtesy of U.S.-based DraftKings (asterisk denotes teams that have already qualified for the Round of 16). Odds for the Champions League third-place teams are not yet available:
Europa League outright winner odds
|Red Star Belgrade||+6500|
UEFA Europa League 2021-2022: Tournament format
The 2021-2022 edition of the UEFA Europa League features a tweaked knockout-round format.
As usual, the tournament started out with a group stage (eight groups of four teams each), and only the top two finishers in each group advance: Group winners advance directly to the Round of 16 and runners-up head to knockout-round playoffs against Champions League third-place teams for the right to play in the Round of 16. Gone is the Round of 32 of past years.
Two-leg, aggregate-goal knockout rounds are played the entire way through to the single game final that will be held in Sevilla, Spain, on May 18, 2022.
- Group stage: Sept. 16, Sept. 30, Oct. 21, Nov. 4, Nov. 25, Dec. 9
- Knockout playoffs: Feb. 17 (Leg 1) & Feb. 24 (Leg 2)
- Round of 16: March 10 (Leg 1) & March 17 (Leg 2)
- Quarterfinals: April 7 (Leg 1) & April 14 (Leg 2)
- Semifinals: April 28 (Leg 1), May 5 (Leg 2)
- Final: May 18, 2022 (Sevilla, Spain)
No away goals tiebreaker in Europa League
Here’s that twist: For the first time since 1965, there will be no away goals tiebreaker used in any of the knockout rounds of UEFA competitions, including the Europa League, after it was abolished in June 2021.
Series that are tied on aggregate goals after the conclusion of the second leg will go straight to extra time and, if necessary, a penalty-kick shootout.
How to watch the UEFA Europa League
The 2021-22 UEFA Europa League is carried in the United States by CBS (English) and Univision (Spanish) across a number of TV and streaming platforms.
- Dates: 15 matchdays from Sept. 2021-May 2022
- TV channels: CBS, CBS Sports Network-CBSSN (select matches only)
- Spanish-language TV: Univision, TUDN, UniMas, Galavision, TUDNxtra (TUDNxtra available through select cable, satellite & streaming providers)
- Streaming (English): Paramount+
- Streaming (Spanish): fuboTV, PrendeTV, TUDN.tv, TUDN app (authenticated users)
CBS Sports has live pregame, halftime and postgame studio shows, which air on CBS Sports Network and stream on Paramount+. Also back this year is the RedZone-like whip-around show called “The Golazo Show,” also on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+, with all the goals and best chances from the concurrent group stage matches.
Univision mirrors that coverage with its own pregame and postgame shows. Its whip-around show is called “Zona Fútbol.”
Nearly every Europa League match is available to be streamed on fuboTV, which offers a free seven-day trial to new subscribers. The streaming platform carries all the Univision family of channels: Univision, TUDN, UniMas, Galavision and TUDNxtra.
Univision will stream select matches on its ad-supported platform PrendeTV, which is available for free across mobile and connected TV devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple (iOS and tvOS), Google (Android phones and TV devices), Roku, and via the web on Prende.tv.