Europa League preview: Scottish powers, AC Milan in focus

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Let’s be real: There are few top teams still working for their Europa League lives — and we’ll get to them — but there’s much more intrigue regarding the eight new teams set to join the competition after finishing third in their group at the Champions League.

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Here are the new boys:

Club Brugge
Inter Milan
Shakhtar Donetsk
Viktoria Plzen

If we’re being honest, all but two have a legit chance to make a run to the final given the right draw (Club Brugge and Viktoria Plzen seem just a bridge too far here).

And, more importantly, we’ve got the chance for a Sarri Ball reunion special between Chelsea and Napoli, and a Milan Derby (should AC Milan handle its business on Thursday).

Next, here are the teams who’ve already clinched their spots in the UEL:

Bayer Leverkusen
Red Bull Salzburg
Zenit Saint Petersburg
Dinamo Zagreb
Sporting Lisbon
Real Betis
Eintracht Frankfurt
Dynamo Kyiv

And, finally, here are the matches that carry the most interest, aside from already-clinched Chelsea heading to MOL Vidi and Arsenal hosting last-place Qarabag:

Group B: Celtic vs. Red Bull Salzburg; RB Leipzig vs. Rosenborg

RBL has the tiebreaker should it beat Rosenborg, who hasn’t won, and Celtic fail to gain a point from RBS, who hasn’t lost. Will Brendan Rodgers be able to rally his men to a draw or better at home against the team that beat it 3-1 in Austria?

Group F: Olympiacos vs. AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan has a three-point edge on the Greeks for the group’s second spot in the knockout rounds, and took the home leg 3-1. That away goal means 2-0 would do the job for Olympiacos, but any one goal win wouldn’t be enough for the hosts.

Group G: Villarreal vs. Spartak Moscow; Rapid Vienna vs. Rangers

This group is nuts, with all four teams alive for the knockout rounds. Villarreal, however, can make it simple by drawing or beating Spartak. Steven Gerrard‘s Glasgow Rangers also have a straight-forward angle, needing to topple Rapid Vienna.