February 25 is a date that all West Ham fans should put in their diaries. That’s when the draw for the last 16 of the Europa League takes place. Just who could the Hammers face?
Winning Group H saw West Ham avoid the play-off round. A good job too as that could have seen them end up with a game against a European giant (though slightly chopped down in size) such as Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund. Those horrors could yet await the Hammers in the last 16.
Mind you, after winning at Kidderminster, a trip to a top European side shouldn’t scare West Ham. As the Hammers attempt to finish in the top four, winning the Europa League can also get them into the Champions League next season.
There are some potentially difficult ties ahead in the Europa League. Let’s look at the easier options first though.
Sheriff Tiraspol take on Braga in the play-off round. Facing the winners of that tie would give the Hammers a good chance of making the Europa League quarter finals. Sheriff hail from Moldova and caused surprises in their Champions League group with wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and away at Real Madrid.
Then they conceded three goals in their next three matches before drawing 1-1 at Shakhtar. Braga have lost three of their last four away games in the Europa League so a tie against the Portuguese side wouldn’t be a bad option.
Sadly, that’s the end of the “easier options.” The other seven ties all feature sides that could give West Ham more problems than seen on a Saturday afternoon in Kidderminster.
Let’s just hope that the winners of Barcelona v Napoli find other last 16 opponents. Barcelona may be slumming it in the Europa League but are in decent form at present, according to what sportsbooks say. Napoli gave Leicester plenty of problems in the group stages.
Would you fancy facing Erling Haaland instead? Borussia Dortmund are another possible opponent for West Ham in the last 16. They slipped out of the Champions League and take on Rangers in the play-off round. West Ham v Rangers looks a bit mouth-watering though doesn’t it?
Sevilla also began the season in the Champions League. The Spaniards are in La Liga title contention and adore the Europa League. Just the six wins and they only have to get past Dinamo Zagreb (who finished second behind West Ham in the group stages) in the play-off round.
Real Betis are another possible Spanish opponent. They edged Celtic out in their group and are in the top four in La Liga. They face Zenit Saint Petersburg in the play-off round. Drawing the winner wouldn’t be a disaster for the Hammers.
RB Leipzig aren’t doing too well in the Bundesliga this season. They take on Real Sociedad and will fancy their chances of making the last 16. The German side aren’t that good on the road though, conceding nine goals at PSG and Manchester City this season.
Atalanta surprisingly got knocked out of the Champions League. They face Olympiakos and will be a threat in the Europa League. The other tie is between Porto and Lazio, again both are doing well in their national leagues and would be difficult opponents.
Sheriff or Braga in the last 16 would be the dream draw. Betis or Zenit perhaps, but aside from that, West Ham will have their work cut out to make the quarter finals.