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

Get the lowdown on the eight matches as the 2022/23 UEFA Europa League knockout round play-offs get under way.

Ajax team-mates Jurrien Timber and Davy Klaassen share a joke in training on Wednesday
Ajax team-mates Jurrien Timber and Davy Klaassen share a joke in training on Wednesday ANP via Getty Images

Barcelona, Manchester United, Roma and Ajax all feature as the UEFA Europa League returns on Thursday 16 February with eight knockout round play-off openers. Get the lowdown on every game.

What are the knockout round play-offs?

There are 16 teams involved in the Europa League knockout round play-offs: the eight runners-up from the Europa League group stage and the eight third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Ties are played over two legs and will conclude on Thursday 23 February; the away goals rule has been abolished. The eight play-off winners join the eight group winners in the round of 16 draw on Friday 24 February; the eight play-off losers will no longer be involved in 2022/23 European competition.

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Barcelona vs Man United (18:45 CET)

A meeting of two of Europe's in-form clubs. Current coach Xavi Hernández and midfielder Sergio Busquets were in the Barcelona side for their victories against United in the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals, and Busquets was also involved in the teams' most recent games as Barça eliminated the Red Devils 4-0 on aggregate in the 2018/19 Champions League quarter-finals. United are yet to beat their opponents in Spain (D2 L3) but Erik ten Hag's side can take some comfort from the fact that United did beat Bayern at the Camp Nou in the 1999 Champions League final.

Key stat
The last time these sides met outside the Champions League was in the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup final; United won 2-1 in Rotterdam thanks to two goals from former Barcelona striker Mark Hughes.

Man United and Barcelona in Europa League showdown

Shakhtar vs Rennes (18:45 CET)

Fans with long memories will recall that these clubs met in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup group stage, Shakhtar winning the one-off encounter 1-0 in France, but times have changed as Igor Jovićević's side prepare for their first game of 2023 with the regular Ukrainian season not resuming until March. Bruno Génésio's Rennes beat Shakhtar's historic rivals Dynamo Kyiv twice in the Europa League group stage during the winter, in the course of a 17-game unbeaten run from August to the FIFA World Cup break.

Key stat
Shakhtar have won only one of their four games in Warsaw – a 3-2 victory at Legia in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup. Their record there in this season's Champions League group stage was D2 L1.

Five great Shakhtar Donetsk Europa League goals

Ajax vs Union Berlin (18:45 CET)

Ajax had a bruising autumn in the Champions League, twice beating Rangers but losing 3-0 at home to Liverpool and 6-1 at home against Napoli. "It shows that we are not where we want to be," said an embarrassed Daley Blind, who has since departed for Bayern. Coach Alfred Schreuder also left at the end of January, with John Heitinga taking the reins for the rest of the campaign. As they meet Union Berlin for the first time, Ajax will hope that the Europa League is a more welcoming environment, but they will need to be wary of Urs Fischer's team, who have won their last four European games 1-0.

Key stat
Ajax have won all of their previous six UEFA Cup and Europa League home games against German sides by a margin of at least two goals.

Ajax's European glory – watch all the goals from their six final wins

Salzburg vs Roma (18:45 CET)

Salzburg have never met Roma before, but Matthias Jaissle's side will not be too daunted: they held AC Milan to a 1-1 draw in Austria this autumn and have twice beaten Roma's city rivals Lazio on home soil (2-1 in 2009, 4-1 in 2018). "We are certainly not starting as favourites, but we will try to play with courage and show our style of football," said Jaissle, whose team resumed competitive football at the start of February. Roma were UEFA Europa Conference League winners last season under José Mourinho, who has lifted this trophy with both Porto (2002/03) and Man United (2016/17).

Key stat
Roma are unbeaten in three previous games in Austria (W2 D1), including a 4-1 win at Tirol Innsbruck in 1992 and a 4-2 success at Austria Wien in 2016.

Highlights: Salzburg 4-1 Lazio (Agg: 6-5)

What next?

The second legs take place a week after the first, on 23 February. Winners of the ties earn a place in the last 16 draw on 24 February, where they will be unseeded.

The seeded teams are Arsenal, Betis, Fenerbahçe, Ferencváros, Feyenoord, Freiburg, Real Sociedad and Union Saint-Gilloise.

Juventus vs Nantes (21:00 CET)

The clubs met in the 1995/96 Champions League semi-finals, Juve winning 2-0 at home and then progressing after a 3-2 defeat in France. In the final, they beat Ajax on penalties after a 1-1 draw in Rome – their last major international success.

Nantes boss Antoine Kombouaré is up for the test, regardless of how daunting, saying after the draw: "We wanted tough, we got tough. The objective was to get through the group stage and that is done. People wanted to draw a big side, and that's done too. Now we have to play every match as if it were our last."

Key stat
Paris Saint-Germain won 2-1 at Juve in this season's Champions League group stage, becoming the first French side to beat the Bianconeri in a UEFA game in Italy at the 16th attempt (D3 L12)

Highlights: Olympiacos 0-2 Nantes

Sporting CP vs Midtjylland (21:00 CET)

Brazilian forward Mário Jardel was the star man in these clubs' only previous meetings, scoring three times across two legs as Sporting eliminated Midtjylland 6-2 on aggregate in the 2001/02 UEFA Cup first round.

Rúben Amorim's team started this season's Champions League campaign with two wins, but moved into the Europa League after picking up just one more point in the final four fixtures. Led by former Barcelona youth boss Albert Capellas, Midtjylland's autumn triumphs included a 5-1 win against Lazio. This will be the Danish side's first competitive game of 2023.

Key stat
Midtjylland took on Sporting's Lisbon rivals Benfica in this season's Champions League third qualifying round; they lost 4-1 away and 3-1 at home.

Highlights: Midtjylland 5-1 Lazio

Leverkusen vs Monaco (21:00 CET)

Having expressed some frustration as he left Leverkusen for Monaco in summer 2020, Kevin Volland faces a trip back to the BayArena after re-establishing himself as a striker during his time in Ligue 1.

Monaco hold the upper hand over Leverkusen in the Champions League (W3 D2 L1), while boss Philippe Clement took on the Bundesliga outfit as a Club Brugge player, scoring in a 1-1 draw in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup. He may be able to call on his old side for tips: Club Brugge – who Clement coached until last season – beat Leverkusen 1-0 at home and drew 0-0 away in this season's Champions League group stage.

Key stat
Leverkusen won just one of their first seven games under new coach Xabi Alonso but managed five straight Bundesliga victories either side of the winter break.

Highlights: Monaco 1-1 Leverkusen

Sevilla vs PSV Eindhoven (21:00 CET)

Few at Sevilla will remember the autumn of 2022 fondly, with a run of poor results costing Julen Lopetegui his job and his replacement Jorge Sampaoli unable to make much improvement before the World Cup break. A third-placed finish in their Champions League group at least enabled the six-time UEFA Cup and Europa League winners to set up this first meeting with PSV, one of defender Karim Rekik's old clubs.

In his time in Spain playing for Real Madrid and Málaga, PSV boss Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice in five games against Sevilla.

Key stat
PSV were the top scorers in this season's Europa League group stage with 15 goals.

Highlights: Sevilla's greatest goals
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