Europa League 2011-2012: Will United and City take their job seriously?
Due to both Manchester teams' and Porto's flops in the Champions League, the Europa League has a more star-studded line-up than usual.
Porto vs Manchester City, Ajax vs Manchester United and Lazio vs Atletico Madrid are the most glamorous ties - that is, if the English teams take their job seriously.
We seriously doubt it. The ridiculous last gasp elimination of Fulham at the hands of the modest Danes of Odense reinforces this view. Seeing that the top priority for City and United is the Premiership title, it is only logical that Mancini and Ferguson will save their best players for the gruelling domestic schedule.
No such considerations for Porto and Ajax, who will surely have a good chance at going through. Ironically, Stoke City is the best-positioned English team to reach the last 16. Not because their opponent Valencia will be weak, on the contrary, but because making a mark in the Europa League may just be more important to unheralded Stoke than for their super-rich and overhyped Premiership rivals.
ROUND OF 32
(1st leg on February 16, 2nd leg on February 23)
Porto vs. Manchester City
Ajax vs. Manchester United
Stoke City vs Valencia
Salzburg vs. Metalist Harkiv
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Athletic Bilbao
Rubin vs. Olympiacos
AZ Alkmaar vs. Anderlecht
Lazio vs. Atletico Madrid
Steaua vs. Twente
Viktoria Plzen vs. Schalke
Wisla vs. Standard
Sporting Braga vs. Besiktas
Udinese vs. PAOK Salonika
Trabzonspor vs. PSV Eindhoven
Hannover vs. Club Brugge
Legia vs. Sporting Lisbon
ROUND OF 16
(1st leg on March 8, 2nd leg on March 15)
Winner Salzburg vs. Metalist Harkiv vs winner Rubin vs. Olympiacos
Winner Legia vs. Sporting Lisbon vs winner Porto vs. Manchester City
Winner Steaua vs. Twente vs winner Viktoria Plzen vs. Schalke
Winner Wisla vs. Standard vs winner Hannover vs. Club Brugge
Winner Stoke City vs. Valencia vs winner Trabzonspor vs. PSV Eindhoven
Winner AZ Alkmaar vs. Anderlecht vs winner Udinese vs. PAOK Salonika
Winner Lazio vs. Atletico Madrid vs winner Sporting Braga vs. Besiktas
Winner Ajax vs. Manchester United vs winner Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Athletic Bilbao
Shahtar is correctly spelt rather than Shakhtar;
Harkiv is correctly spelt rather than Kharkiv.
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