Europa League reaches knockout stage

New kids on the block such as Edin Džeko have work to do to catch the competition's leading scorers when the UEFA Europa League reconvenes with the round of 32.

Liverpool train ahead of their meeting with Sparta
Liverpool train ahead of their meeting with Sparta ©Getty Images

As the UEFA Europa League resumes this week with the round of 32, top strikers from across the continent will be out to fire their sides a little closer to the 18 May final in Dublin.

The action kicked off on Tuesday with Manchester City FC held 0-0 at Aris Thessaloniki FC, keeping up their 40-year unbeaten home record in UEFA competition in the first leg of their tie. The remaining games are on Thursday.

City's Premier League rivals Liverpool FC will hope to unleash their own recently acquired striker Andy Carroll on AC Sparta Praha at Stadion Letná, although injury may prevent that. Fellow deadline-day recruit Luis Suárez is ineligible, while Sparta will be weakened by the sale of Wilfried Bony – who scored five goals in the group stage – last month.

Suárez's fellow Uruguayan and SSC Napoli forward Edinson Cavani will set his sights on prolonging Villarreal CF's wait for a maiden success on Italian soil by adding to the five goals he has so far in the competition. But the Yellow Submarine possess potent fire power too – Giuseppe Rossi's five-goal haul helped them reign over Group D.

Leading the individual scoring charts is FC Porto's Falcao, whose seven strikes contributed to a table-topping Group L campaign. The Colombian international will spearhead the Portuguese Liga pacesetters during their visit to Sevilla FC in a tantalising all-Iberian affair.

VfB Stuttgart – Bundesliga strugglers yet Group H winners – make the journey to the Estádio da Luz to play SL Benfica, shorn of centre-back David Luiz after his switch to Chelsea FC, while Lisbon rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal travel to Glasgow to face Rangers FC.

The Scottish side are one of eight teams who have transferred from the UEFA Champions League, four of whom have been paired up: FC Rubin Kazan host Dutch champions FC Twente while fellow Russian Premier League outfit FC Spartak Moskva are welcomed by FC Basel 1893.

Russia's other two representatives, FC Zenit St Petersburg and PFC CSKA Moskva, not only headed their groups but finished as joint-top scorers – averaging an impressive three goals a game. UEFA Cup winners three years ago, Zenit were the only club with six group victories and will test BSC Young Boys' fine record at the Stade de Suisse. CSKA, for whom Tomáš Necid and Seydou Doumbia have grabbed a combined nine goals, go to Greece to tackle PAOK FC.

Meanwhile, in an intriguing Low Countries derby, RSC Anderlecht meet AFC Ajax in Brussels, while Eredivisie frontrunners PSV Eindhoven visit their French Ligue 1 counterparts LOSC Lille Métropole.

One place behind Rudi Garcia's men are Paris Saint-Germain FC who come up against Belarusian champions FC BATE Borisov in Minsk and Bundesliga title chasers Bayer 04 Leverkusen have a tough assignment at Ukraine's FC Metalist Kharkiv. Finally, KKS Lech Poznań battle it out with SC Braga for a last-16 place, starting in Poland, while Group E victors FC Dynamo Kyiv encounter Beşiktaş JK in Istanbul.

The return legs take place between 22 and 24 February.