Where They Stand: Europa League’s 32 knockout round teams (and their potential effect on UEFA’s coefficients)

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Europa League is still trying to gain a foothold in the collective soccer fans’ consciousness, but one thing fans of the European game do care about are country coefficients. That’s the system UEFA uses to decide how many spots each leg gets in its two continental tournaments. Two years ago, the system got a lot of attention when Germany passed Italy for third, thus claiming an extra Champions League spot at Serie A’s expense.

As it concerns the coefficient, games in Europa League count just as much as those in Champions League, making it a great place for leagues to make up ground in the standings. Three years ago Portugal, despite not having a contender in Champions League, led UEFA in coefficient points because three teams from the Liga Sagres made Europa’s semifinals. The next year, Spain racked up the most points, in large part because Atlético Madrid and Athletic Bilbao make Europa’s final.

Two federations that could use this year’s tournament to make similar moves are Italy and Ukraine, with the Italian contingent looking particularly strong. Napoli and Juventus have both fallen down from Champions League, while Fiorentina, one of the pre-tournament favorites, went undefeated in group play. Lazio also remains alive, having finished second in Group J, but between Juve, the partenopei, and la violaSerie A has three strong contenders for this title.

For Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk will have a chance to reclaim an honor they won in 2009 (when it was called the UEFA Cup), with fellow power Dynamo Kyiv also pushing through to the knockout round. While Shakhtar is dropping from Champions League, Dynamo advance after finishing second in their group, with though Chornomorets Odesa and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk having also taken their groups’ runners up spots.  

The progress each league can made toward improving their coefficients is limited, with five years’ worth of results taken into account. Even if Italy pulls a Portugal and puts three teams into the semifinals, they’re not going to reclaim a knockout round spot from Germany. The difference between a great year (coefficient-wise) and an average one is about eight point, and Italy (at 63.105, right now) needs to make up 16 on Germany (79.498).

But you have to start somewhere. If Italy can dominate Europa League, they could lay the groundwork to displace Germany (or England) down the road. And if Ukraine can take advantage of four teams in Europa’s knockout round, they could start thinking about replacing France or Portugal’s places among the leagues that get three Champions League spots.

Until then, here are the clubs that are going through to the Round of 16 in Europa League, with the draw set to take place on Monday.

GROUP WINNERS POT
(includes four highest point-getters from Champions League’s third place teams)

  • A: Valencia (Spain, 13 pts.)
  • B: Ludogorets Raxgrad (Bulgaria, 16 pts.)
  • C: Red Bull Salzburg (Austria, 18 pts.)
  • D: Rubin Kazan (Russia, 14 pts.)
  • E: Fiorentina (Italy, 16 pts.)
  • F: Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany, 15 pts.)
  • G: Genk (Belgium, 14 pts.)
  • H: Sevilla (Spain, 12 pts.)
  • I: Lyon (France, 12 pts.)
  • J: Trabzonspor (Turkey, 14 pts.)
  • K: Tottenham Hotspur (England, 18 pts.)
  • L: AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands, 12 pts.)
  • CL: Napoli (Italy, 12 pts.)
  • CL: Benfica (Portugal, 10 pts.)
  • CL: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine, 8 pts.)
  • CL: Basel (Switzerland, 8 pts.)

RUNNERS UP POT 
(includes four lowest point-getters from Champions League’s third place teams)

  • A: Swansea City (England, 8 pts.)
  • B: Chornomorets Odesa (Ukraine, 10 pts.)
  • C: Esbjerg (Denmark, 12 pts.)
  • D: Maribor (Slovenia, 7 pts.)
  • E: Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine, 12 pts.)
  • F: Maccabu Tel Aviv (Israel, 11 pts.)
  • G: Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine, 10 pts.)
  • H: Solvan Liberac (Czech Republic, 9 pts.)
  • I: Real Betis (Spain, 9 pts.)
  • J: Lazio (Italy, 12 pts.)
  • K: Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia, 8 pts.)
  • L: PAOK (Greece, 12 pts.)
  • CL: Ajax (Netherlands, 8 pts.)
  • CL: Juventus (Italy, 6 pts.)
  • CL: Porto (Portugal, 5 pts.)
  • CL: Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic, 3 pts.)

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.