While the first legs of the Champions League have commenced this week, it is now the time for the Europa League to reconvene as we enter the knock out stages good and proper. English hopes rest with Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle, who will all be looking to take comfortable leads going into their second legs next week.
The good people of UEFA have culminated a list of 20 facts ahead of the last 32 showdowns for your viewing pleasure:
1. The round of 32 participants come from 16 countries, with representation split as follows:
4 clubs – England, Germany
3 clubs – Italy, Russia, Ukraine
2 clubs – Czech Republic, France, Romania, Spain
1 club – Belarus, Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey
2. Four of the seven countries with just one participant are represented by clubs that transferred from the UEFA Champions League: FC BATE Borisov (Belarus), Olympiacos FC (Greece), AFC Ajax (Netherlands) and SL Benfica (Portugal).
3. Twelve clubs are competing in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase for the first time – Chelsea FC, CFR 1907 Cluj, Newcastle United FC, FC Anji Makhachkala, Levante UD, FC Internazionale Milano, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, KRC Genk, FC Girondins de Bordeaux, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Olympique Lyonnais and Tottenham Hotspur FC.
4. Chelsea, the UEFA Champions League holders, are the only one of the 32 participating teams who have never previously competed in the UEFA Europa League. Of the other 31 participants, only one side has played fewer than six UEFA Europa League matches – Olympiacos with four.
5. Chelsea are joined in the field by five other previous winners of the European Cup – Inter, Liverpool FC, Benfica, Ajax and FC Steaua Bucureşti. Ajax and Steaua meet in the last 32.
6. UEFA Europa League holders Club Atlético de Madrid are one of seven other clubs in the last 32 who have won a major UEFA club competition title. They are joined by FC Zenit St Petersburg, FC Dynamo Kyiv, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach, S.S. Lazio, Tottenham and SSC Napoli. Newcastle won the non-UEFA-backed Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
7. There are six reigning domestic champions competing in the round of 32 – BATE (Belarus), CFR Cluj (Romania), Olympiacos (Greece), Zenit (Russia), Ajax (Netherlands) and FC Basel 1893 (Switzerland).
8. The field includes eight teams that hold the record for domestic league titles in their homeland – BATE (Belarus), Fenerbahçe SK (Turkey, shared), Olympiacos (Greece), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Benfica (Portugal), Ajax (Netherlands), Steaua (Romania) and AC Sparta Praha (Czech Republic).
9. Of the seven clubs that entered the UEFA Europa League group stage, six made it through to the knockout phase – Tottenham, Lyon, Leverkusen, Napoli, FC Rubin Kazan and holders Atlético. The only ones to suffer group stage elimination were A. Académica de Coimbra.
10. Including qualifying and play-off fixtures, the clubs who have required most games in Europe this season to reach the last 32 are BATE, Basel, Anji and FC Viktoria Plzeň, each with 12.
11. Anji and Plzeň are the UEFA Europa League’s longest survivors this season, having entered in the second qualifying round. BATE and Basel began their European campaigns at the equivalent stage of the UEFA Champions League.
12. Eleven of the teams in the round of 32 began their European season in the UEFA Champions League – the eight teams that transferred over after the group stage plus Mönchengladbach, Basel and Fenerbahçe, who switched competition after the play-offs.
13. Ajax and Rubin are making their fourth successive appearances in the round of 32. The only other surviving participants that have appeared in all four editions of the UEFA Europa League are Atlético and Steaua.
14. Ajax will be especially keen to reach the final as it is staged in their own Amsterdam ArenA. Should they do so, they will become the first club to appear on home turf in a UEFA Europa League final. Two clubs managed the feat in a one-off UEFA Cup final, Feyenoord defeating Borussia Dortmund in Rotterdam in 2002 and Sporting Clube de Portugal losing to PFC CSKA Moskva in Lisbon in 2005.
15. Diego Simeone (Atlético) and André Villas-Boas (Tottenham) are bidding to become the first coach to win the UEFA Europa League twice, Simeone having captured it with Atlético in 2011/12 and Villas-Boas with FC Porto in 2010/11.
16. Also still involved in the round of 32 are UEFA Cup-winning coaches Juande Ramos (Dnipro), who won the competition back-to-back with Sevilla FC (2006 and 2007), and Chelsea’s Rafael Benítez (with Valencia CF in 2004). Genk’s Mario Been was an assistant coach in Feyenoord’s 2002 win.
17. Only two coaches involved in the round of 32 have lifted the European Champion Clubs’ Cup – Anji’s Guus Hiddink, a winner with PSV Eindhoven in 1988, and Benítez with Liverpool in 2005. Additionally, Villas-Boas was the Chelsea coach for part of their triumphant 2011/12 UEFA Champions League campaign before being replaced by Roberto Di Matteo.
18. Round of 32 coaches who won the UEFA Cup as a player are Leverkusen’s Sami Hyypiä (with Liverpool, 2001), Simeone (Inter, 1998) and Ajax’s Frank de Boer (Ajax, 1992).
19. Hyypiä and De Boer were also UEFA Champions League winners as players, with Liverpool (2005) and Ajax (1995) respectively, while Dynamo Kyiv’s Oleh Blokhin won the European Cup Winners’ Cup twice with the Ukrainian club in 1975 and 1986.
20. A number of players with English teams will take on former clubs in the last 32 – Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (against Lyon), Liverpool defender Martin Škrtel (Zenit) and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech (Sparta Praha).