The Europa League Round of 32 concluded on Thursday night, with some high scoring aggregates and a few surprising outcomes. Let's look through them.
The one game on the Wednesday saw Sevilla comfortably conclude their tie against Lazio, 2-0 for the Spaniards on the night. After the first goal in the 20th minute through Ben Yedder, Lazio knew their fate and the hope was they wouldn't come away embarrassed.
But their slide in form of late has been incredibly surprising and you just wonder whether this will now continue on the domestic front. As far Sevilla, seems daft to write them off, even their badge is starting to look like the trophy itself!
In the early kick offs, Dinamo Zagreb turned round a 2-1 deficit to thrash Czech's Viktoria Plzen 3-0 on the night, a very credible result as I wondered (based on their Champions League performances) whether Plzen could go fairly deep in the competition. RB Salzburg also turned round a 2-1 defeat against Champions League drop outs, this however was a 4-0 thrashing of Belgians Club Brugge, Manus Dabbur scoring deep into stoppage time to be out right top scorer in the tournament so far on 7 goals. A late Fornals goal saw Villarreal advance over Sporting CP in a squeaky bum time affair, Napoli and Valencia saw home their advantage from the first leg to progress against for inferior opposition, and both Zenit St Petersburg and Arsenal managed to overcome first leg set backs to reach the next round as they were heavily tipped to do.
The biggest result from those clump of games was Eintracht Frankfurt beating Shakhtar Donetsk 4-1 in Germany, 6-3 on aggregate. Frankfurt could be a dark horse for this tournament you know. A reasonable defence with a goalkeeper who has plenty to prove (Kevin Trapp) and a midfield with both experience and flair, but it's the front line that looks so tasty. Sebastien Haller, the French striker who came to prominence in Holland before making his way to the Bundesliga side, is always a fair bet for a goal, and Luka Jovic, on loan from Benfica but Frankfurt have an option to buy in the summer, is being linked with £75 million moves to Barcelona...wonder if Eintracht will take up that buying option. As far Shakhtar, they need a new generation of Brazilian talent to take over from the old guard, but will they be able to tempt enough whilst the unrest in that area is still going on?
As far as the late games are concerned, Inter and Chelsea put away their lowly opponents in clinical fashion, Rapid Vienna and Malmo are likely to still be licking their wounds. Benfica held out for a 0-0 draw to advance 2-1 on aggregate over Galatasaray, whilst Dynamo Kyiv got the goal they needed to see off Olympiakos. Slavia Prague thrashed Genk 4-1 in Belgium after a 0-0 draw in Prague so there is at least some Czech representation in the last 16, whilst Rennes managed another three goals against Real Betis, but the Andalucians could only muster 1 reply to crash out 6-4 over the two legs. Bayer Leverkusen were seen by nearly everyone as favourites to advance but their 1-1 draw at home to Russian side Krasnodar would see them knocked out on away goals, that's probably the shock result of the round.
And so to the next round, and some ties to whet the appetite! Eintracht Frankfurt take on Inter Milan, if Inter can do the job here they should be seen as really favourites. Dinamo Zagreb v Benfica, instinct says Benfica but they haven't been great this year and you could see Zagreb doing enough at home to advance. Sevilla are up against Slavia Prague, no way the Spaniards won't make it through surely? Rennes up against Arsenal, a lovely tie for Petr Cech, who moved to Chelsea from Rennes all those years ago, a chance for him to say goodbye to the club where he really took off as one of the great keepers of his day before he retires in the summer. Arsenal to advance. Zenit St Petersburg will tackle Villarreal, unless Javier Calleja can continue to turn around the Yellow Submarines fortunes, as he has been doing of late, then it's Zenit for the quarters in my eyes. Chelsea have been drawn against Dynamo Kyiv, feels too easy for Chelsea that, surely even Sarri-ball can't fail in this tie? Valencia will take on Krasnodar, who must have wished that the Big Black Bats had fucked up their tie as that'd have been a walk over for the Russians, this tie however will be a tough ask for them. And, in what is being described as the hipster tie of the round, Red Bull Salzburg face Napoli. Whenever those two games are on, watch them, they will be very fun.
I'm predicting a quarter final line up of Inter Milan, Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg, Chelsea, Valencia and Napoli. And I very much like the look of it. What do you think? Who makes it through those eight match ups in your eyes?
So let's look at what games are on the big or small screen for you to really try and catch if possible.
On Sunday at 19:30 on Premier Sports 1, Fiorentina welcome Inter Milan to their home in what should be an open game with young pups looking to prove they can handle much bigger dogs. I'll be keen to see how Chiesa does in this game. I think he's set for a move to one of the big players in Serie A. I can see him fitting into the starting 11's of both Juventus and AC Milan, but will Inter also want to join that race? They will have a chance to look at him up close that's for sure. You also wonder whether Icardi and his wife (at least I think she still is) Wanda will be in the stands and how many times will the Italian media cut to them watching the game? Who knows how that one will go, but as far as this game is concerned, I'd likely punt for a marginal Inter win.