Pity the Europa League. The Champions League's poorer relation is bloated - the group stages stretch all the way to the letter 'L' - and the sale of television rights has stripped it of its catchy 'Thursday Nights, Channel 5' chant.
Yet with the exhaustive group stages over, and the addition of some of the Champions League big boys, the knockout round of 32 has the possibility of throwing up some fascinating ties. Despite the fact clubs from the same country cannot be drawn against eachother, there are some intriguing possibilities:
Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund
What with football writing's ability to invest an employee returning to the location of a former employer with a biblical destiny, a return for Jurgen Klopp to his former club has been on the agenda ever since he arrived at Anfield in October. What is surprising is that it could happen as early as the Round of 32, following Dortmund's failure to finish ahead of FC Krasnodar. It means that Klopp could face an emotive return to the side he lifted to two league titles, although he doesn't seem overwhelmed at the prospect:
"@BVB? Okay, no problem!" @LFC boss Jurgen Klopp reacts to news that he could face his old club in #UEL last 32. https://t.co/YiiSvePCTQ
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) December 10, 2015
Manchester United v Valencia
For Klopp to Dortmund, see Gary Neville to United. Alex Ferguson had a fantastic record against teams managed by his former players: Steve Bruce, for example, has a zero percent win ratio against his former boss. Gary Neville will be encouraged by the fact that air of invincibility no longer hangs around Old Trafford, evidenced by the fact United are in the Europa League. Nonetheless, Neville has had a difficult start to life as a manager with defeat against Lyon and failure to progress in the Champions League. It would be fascinating to see him test himself at the club he learned at. Phil Neville also previously played with Manchester United.
Liverpool v Valencia
If Neville is guaranteed a warm welcome at Old Trafford, the converse is likely at Anfield. Neville's over exuberant badge-kissing celebrations in front of visiting Liverpool fans earned him a reprimand from the FA, while Neville was the victim of a quite excellent prank by Liverpool fans. Neville made the fatal error of hiring two Liverpool fans to tile his swimming pool a number of years ago, who buried a copy of a Liverpool fanzine as a time capsule beneath the pool. They hoped that in future years, archaeologists would realise what a commited Liverpool fan he was. Perhaps a Jose Mourinho style sprint down the Anfield touchlines by Neville would dissaude them.
Manchester United v Galatasaray
Manchester United's 1993 Champions League tie away to Galatasaray became the template against which all other away trips were judged. United were knocked out by the Turkish side in an atmosphere where United faced "as much hostility and harassment as I have ever known on a football expedition". It is most famous for the unfurling of a banner that read Welcome To Hell by a Galatasaray fan. Gary Pallister remembers an incident at the hotel before the game as thus: "One of the bellboys was standing by the door and I smiled at him. He ran his finger across his throat and I carried on walking, thinking: 'We are not safe even in this hotel". United are unlikely to face an atmosphere as terrifying again (Galatasaray have sold Felipe Melo) but the Turkish side have some useful players, namely Wesley Sneijder and Lukas Podolski.
Borussia Dortmund v Napoli
There is little history between these sides (they met in the Champions League group stages in 2013, with a win each) but on current form, it could be the ideal tie. Napoli are just two points off the top of Serie A and scored more goals in the group stage than anyone else in history, whilst Dortmund have scored an astonishing 42 goals in 15 Bundesliga games. Dortmund have never won the UEFA Cup, whilst Napoli's Maradona-inspired triumph in 1989 remains their only victory in this competition.
Spurs v Anderlecht
We considered including Spurs v Villareal, but we couldn't market anything entitled the Roberto Soldado Derby. Instead we have plumped for Spurs/Anderlecht, which would be a repeat of the 1984 UEFA Cup final. Spurs won what was then a two-legged final on penalties. Their match up was controversial in the first place, after it emerged that Anderlecht may have bribed the referee in the semi-final victory against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest.
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