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