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Europa Conference League knockout round play-off first legs: Game-by-game preview

A rundown of all this week's eight Europa Conference League knockout round play-off first legs.

Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel training ahead of a meeting with Randers from his native Denmark
Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel training ahead of a meeting with Randers from his native Denmark PA Images via Getty Images

Leicester, Celtic and Fenerbahçe are among the teams in action as the eight sides transferring from the UEFA Europa League meet the eight UEFA Europa Conference League group runners-up.

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Leicester City vs Randers

A tie with special meaning for Leicester duo Kasper Schmeichel and Jannik Vestergaard as the FA Cup holders welcome the Danish Cup holders. Randers didn't exist when Schmeichel began his career in the Manchester City youth set-up but they have established themselves in the Danish top flight and are seven points off the lead ahead of the resumption. Stephen Odey has ten goals to his name this season and may fancy his chances against a Leicester side whose patched-up defence has leaked goals.

Matt Elliott on Leicester's Danish assignment
Matt Elliott on Leicester's Danish assignment

Did you know?
Randers have won just one of their last eight European away games (D3 L4) – 1-0 against Sant Julià of Andorra in the 2015/16 Europa League first qualifying round first leg (4-0 aggregate).

Celtic vs Bodø/Glimt

Bodø/Glimt are rivalling Sheriff as this season's breakout stars in Europe, but the newly crowned Norwegian champions' success has had its drawbacks, with Patrick Berg and Erik Botheim leaving for pastures new over the winter. It means a rebuilding job for Kjetil Knutsen, not helped by the fact his team have not had a competitive match for two months. They do, though, have fresh memories of their magical 6-1 triumph over Roma and the confidence that comes from a 26-game unbeaten run. Celtic, too, have form on their side.

Highlights: Bodø/Glimt 6-1 Roma
Highlights: Bodø/Glimt 6-1 Roma

Did you know?
Celtic had the worst defensive record in this season's Europa League group stage with 15 goals conceded in their six games.

Fenerbahçe vs Slavia Praha

It is threatening to be another season to forget for Fenerbahçe. Trabzonspor look beyond reach at the Süper Lig summit and even second-placed Konyaspor may be a bridge too far. The Europa League was a struggle, but there's still some hope of a first piece of silverware since 2014. As for Slavia, Jindřich Trpišovský's side accounted for Leicester and Rangers en route to the Europa League quarter-finals last season and they finished the first half of this season like a train, going 13 games unbeaten and entering the winter break top in the Czech Republic.

Goal of the Group Stage top ten
Goal of the Group Stage top ten

Did you know?
Fenerbahçe defender Filip Novák is a Czech international. He played six times against Slavia in the Czech league for Zlín and Jablonec (W3 D2 L1), scoring in both games against them for Jablonec in 2014/15 (1-1 a, 2-1 h).

Marseille vs Qarabağ

Marseille look to have found their stride since extending their European campaign with victory over Lokomotiv Moskva on Matchday 6. Jorge Sampaoli's men have lost just twice since, allying the dogged defence that has become a feature of their play with signs that the attacking talents of Arkadiusz Milik, Dimitri Payet and Cengiz Ünder are really starting to gel. Azerbaijani league leaders Qarabağ will provide a test, however. The side featuring Lille-born winger Abdellah Zoubir impressed in the group stage and have suffered just two defeats all season.

Did you know?
Both teams lost only once during their group stage campaigns, OM drawing their first four Europa League matches while Qarabağ won three and drew two before a Matchday 6 loss condemned them to second spot.

What next?

The second legs take place a week after the first, on 24 February. Winners of the ties earn a place in the round of 16 draw on 25 February, where they will be unseeded.

The seeded teams are AZ Alkmaar, Basel, Copenhagen, Feyenoord, Gent, LASK, Rennes and Roma.

PSV Eindhoven vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Highlights: HJK 0-5 M. Tel-Aviv
Highlights: HJK 0-5 M. Tel-Aviv

A tie with special meaning for PSV striker Eran Zahavi: Israel's record goalscorer spent three and a half net-busting years at Maccabi earlier in his career. Goals have proved harder to come by in Eindhoven for the 34-year-old, but Israeli visitors could bring the best out in him. PSV are pressuring Ajax in the Netherlands; Maccabi are further adrift in their own championship, yet they have hit their stride in recent weeks – and have already impressed in the Europa Conference League.

Did you know?
Zahavi scored 127 goals in 168 matches for Maccabi in all competitions, winning three successive Israeli Premier League titles (2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15) – and finishing as the league's top scorer in the last two of those campaigns – as well as the 2014/15 State Cup.

Sparta Praha vs Partizan

UECL Heineken GOTW MD1 Ricardo Gomes - (Partizan)
UECL Heineken GOTW MD1 Ricardo Gomes - (Partizan)

Adam Hložek has drawn admiring glances from Europe's great and good over the past 12 months. The Czech international has not quite reached the heights of last season but, still only 19, he certainly hasn't done his reputation any harm. At 30, Ricardo Gomes is approaching the other end of his career, but Partizan's Cape Verde striker is going from strength to strength: he scored his 23rd goal of the season at the weekend in the club's first outing of 2022.

Did you know?
The teams met back in March 1966, when Partizan overcame Sparta in the quarter-finals of the European Cup. The Serbian side recovered from a 4-1 loss in Prague to prevail 5-0 in Belgrade and go on to reach the final, which they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in Brussels.

Midtjylland vs PAOK

The knockout round play-off contenders
The knockout round play-off contenders

Slovenia midfielder Jasmin Kurtić, 33, has emerged as a force in front of goal in his first season in Greece, surging past ten goals for the first time in his career to help PAOK through a difficult spell. Fourteen games unbeaten, winning 12, the Salonika outfit are finding form at just the right time. Midtjylland, without a competitive match since 12 December, will have to hit the ground running in their first outing of 2022. The Danish league leaders rather stuttered to a halt before the winter break.

Did you know?
PAOK posted their first win in Denmark, at the third attempt, when they defeated Copenhagen 2-1 on Matchday 3.

Rapid Wien vs Vitesse

Great saves of the group stage
Great saves of the group stage

Vitesse have had an up-and-down season, cresting the heights of victories over Tottenham and Feyenoord (twice) and the lows of August's 5-0 drubbing by Ajax. Young Belgian striker Loïs Openda helped inspire an impressive run of form either side of the short winter break. Rapid, seeking to reach the last 16 in Europe for the first time since the 1997/98 UEFA Cup, are more difficult to gauge after Austria's long hibernation.

Did you know?
Rapid's last meeting with Dutch opposition was a memorable 5-4 aggregate victory over Ajax in the third qualifying round of the 2015/16 Champions League (2-2 h, 3-2 a).