UEFA Europa League knockout draw.
The draw for the Round of 32 was made in Switzerland on December 14th and it comprises the top two from each of the eight qualifying groups plus eight teams dropping down from the Champions League
What follows is an analysis of what could be the more interesting matchups.
Wolfsberger AC v Tottenham.
Any Jose Mourinho team attracts attention and Spurs are no exception particularly when they are top of the Premier League and challenging for titles.
The Portuguese coach brings that track record of success albeit sometimes via an overly pragmatic style.
But most Tottenham fans would forgive him if he delivers.
And with a formidable focal point such as the Kane-Son duo up front they can threaten any opponent.
Wolfsberger seem hardly likely to trouble the North London sides’ momentum.
The Austrians have limited experience in their own Bundesliga let alone Europe as they venture into the knockout phase for the first time.
They did, however, dispose of the much more seasoned campaigners Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow.
Nevertheless, it would be the shock of the round if Mourinho’s team managed to lose this one.
Real Sociedad v Manchester United.
The tie of the round in prospect?
The Basques have had a moderate recent record in Europe but they go into this one currently leading La Liga.
Imanol Alguacil’s team can field an array of ex-youth players plus the likes of Adnan Januzaj and the peerless David Silva.
Although they needed a late leveller against Napoli to go through La Real might well cause the inconsistent Red Devils problems.
As for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, they are struggling to put results together.
Some feel that a quick exit from this competition and a drop down to mid-table in the EPL could well mean the departure of the Norwegian.
Despite the evident resources at his disposal, not least with forward players such as Rashford, Greenwood, Pogba, and Bruno Fernandes.
The odds favour United but it would not be a big surprise if Real Sociedad won through.
Benfica v Arsenal.
Two teams with a history of success although the pair have only met once in European contests when the Portuguese got the better of the Gunners, over two legs, nearly 30 years ago.
Portuguese title holders Benfica have had a mixed start to their season and currently trail their local rivals Sporting.
And Jorge Jesus’s side were somewhat fortunate to get draws against group winners Rangers before going through.
But they come up against an Arsenal team that has its own issues having dropped to a lowly position in the Premier League via some poor performances.
If the game was played now Benfica would probably have a decent chance but one assumes Mikel Arteta will, given the players he has available, deliver a much more capable eleven in February.
When he would hope Aubameyang, Lacazette and co. will be in more confident shape.
Antwerp v Rangers.
Steven Gerrard is on a roll at Rangers.
The ex-England midfielder has galvanised his team both domestically and in Europe.
His side are well clear of Old Firm rivals Celtic as they bid for, what looks like, an abortive tenth Scottish title in a row.
Despite their defensive limitations Rangers produced an unbeaten qualifying record and, given a reasonable draw, have the potential to go deep in this event.
The Belgians produced one of the surprises of the group stage when they beat Tottenham at their famous Bosuilstadion.
And they have a squad that features a veritable United Nations of players coming from a variety of African countries as well as an Iranian, Israeli, Peruvian, plus locals.
However, expect Gerrard to guide the Glaswegians further forward.
Red Bull Salzburg v AC Milan.
Red Bull dropped out of the Champions League from a group that included the formidable Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid.
To end up with one of the more difficult draws of the round.
The Austrian Bundesliga champions have been consistently successful in Europe and bring plenty of experience.
Which they will need to get past the Rossoneri.
Particularly with the ageless Zlatan Ibrahimovic still active and scoring goals.
The betting will favour the Italians but this could be close.
Granada v Napoli.
For sentimental reasons, many fans will be wishing Napoli well in their bid to emulate the team led by the late Diego Maradona that edged out Stuttgart in 1989 to win their only European trophy.
Gennaro Gattuso doesn’t have a superstar like Maradona but he can call on Dries Mertens, Kalidou Koulibaly and Lorenzo Insigne.
Their opponents, taking part in their first Euro campaign, have already negotiated six matches to get this far and comprise a fairly unheralded squad.
So the odds will favour the Italians even though they will be unlikely to benefit from their usually passionate home crowd, at least for a few months.
Lille v Ajax.
Lille came second behind AC Milan in their group and the French side are doing well in Ligue 1.
Les Dogues have been absent from European competition for a while unlike their adversaries who made a bold bid in the 2019 Champions League only losing in the semi-final to a very late Tottenham decider.
The Dutch thus revived memories of their triumphs of the 1970s and as usual they include a batch of young talent as well as experienced campaigners like Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The form book would imply a victory for Erik ten Hag’s Ajax especially given their track record.
Analysis - John Bethell