Barcelona will take on Napoli in the Europa League's final round play-off.
Barcelona, who were third in their group and were eliminated from the Champions League, will be home to Napoli in the first leg on February 17 before playing away the following week. Napoli finished second in a Europa League group that featured Leicester, having won the Uefa Cup in 1989 with Maradona as captain.
Barcelona, the same team that sought to form a European Super League earlier this year and still wants to do so, is no longer good enough to go to the knockout stages of the Champions League, dropping out for the first time in 17 seasons. In a Super League, what chance would they have?
Barca’s 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich, combined with a huge win for Benfica over Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon, consigned them to third place in Group E and Thursday night football in 2022. Barca will not be in the final 16 of Europe's premier tournament for the first time since 2003-04. Interesting to see how one of Europe’s biggest clubs will rebuild from their recent failings, in a competition they’re clearly not used to. Football fans will be following the latest soccer odds in Canada and the world at large to see how things unfold when continental assignments resume in February.
Barca's downfall will come as little surprise to those who have followed the club attentively in recent years. Four times they've won the Champions League since they last appeared in the Europa League, then still known as the UEFA Cup, in 2004. However, after winning it in 2015, things have drastically deteriorated. They've lost by three goals or more in the last four seasons, twice against both Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. They were also beaten convincingly by Roma, Liverpool, and Benfica in Europe. Then there's Bayern, who have beaten them three times in the last 16 months by three goals or more, for an aggregate score of 14-2.
Barcelona have won only 10 of their last 24 European away games, and have lost five of their last nine Champions League games. They will now hope that the Europa League truly represents their lowest point, and that the rebuilding can begin here. Immediately following the game, coach Xavi Hernandez expressed optimism, saying, "A new era is starting."
Financial constraints that caused Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to go in the summer have resulted in more opportunities for a group of brilliant teenagers. In addition to Pedri and Ansu, Nico Gonzalez, Gavi, Ronald Araujo, and Abde Ezzalzouli have been among the greatest performances this season. The Europa League may be beneficial to them. Xavi will have spent nearly three months with his side by the time the league resumes in February.
Teams placed second in their Europa League groups face clubs that finished third in their Champions League groups in the eight play-off matches. The winners will go to the final 16 of the Europa League, where they will be drawn on February 12th.
Rangers will face a Borussia Dortmund team led by young stars Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham, and notably, Giovanni Reyna, whose father, Claudio, was a Rangers player from 1999 to 2001. The Scottish champions finished second in their Europa League group behind Lyon, while Dortmund were third in their Champions League group behind leaders Ajax and Sporting.
RB Leipzig vs. Real Sociedad, Sevilla vs. Dinamo Zagreb, Zenit St Petersburg vs. Real Betis, Atalanta vs. Olympiakos, Sheriff Tiraspol vs. Sporting Braga and Porto vs. Lazio were the remaining play-off ties drawn.
Leicester City will play Randers of Denmark in the third-tier Europa Conference League, while Celtic will face Bod/Glimt of Norway in the knockout stage.
Fenerbahce v Slavia Prague, PSV Eindhoven v Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Midtjylland v PAOK, Marseille v Qarabag, and Sparta Prague v Partizan are among the other ties in the Conference League play-off round, which follows the same structure as the Europa League.
Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur have been eliminated from the Europa League after being forced to surrender their last group phase fixture against Rennes 3-0 at home, despite Spurs manager Antonio Conte believing the procedure was unjust.
The match was scheduled for Thursday, December 9th, with Spurs requiring a win to finish above Vitesse Arnhem in second place and qualify for a two-leg play-off to advance to the last 16.
On the other hand, Spurs stated the night before that the match would be canceled due to a Covid outbreak within the club, which had caused them to close the first-team portion of their training field temporarily on the advice of the Health Security Agency. Conte had said earlier that day that eight players and five coaches had tested positive for the drug. Under UEFA rules, if a club has less than 13 senior players available and no goalkeeper, games involving those teams must be postponed.