A thrilling final round of games lies ahead as the UEFA Europa League group stage concludes on 14 December.
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There are three fascinating top-two shoot-outs, Qarabağ are looking to make history in Group H, and anything could happen in Group C as the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League group stage reaches its conclusion on Matchday 6.
In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the final group stage fixtures. Remember: Every mission matters.
Thursday 14 December
Group A: West Ham vs Freiburg (21:00), Olympiacos vs TSC (21:00)
Group B: Ajax vs AEK Athens (21:00), Brighton vs Marseille (21:00)
Group C: Real Betis vs Rangers (21:00), Aris Limassol vs Sparta Praha (21:00)
Group D: Sporting CP vs Sturm Graz (21:00), Raków Czestochowa vs Atalanta (21:00)
Group E: Union SG vs Liverpool (18:45), LASK vs Toulouse (18:45)
Group F: Rennes vs Villarreal (18:45), Panathinaikos vs Maccabi Haifa (18:45)
Group G: Roma vs Sheriff Tiraspol (18:45), Slavia Praha vs Servette (18:45)
Group H: Leverkusen vs Molde (18:45), Qarabağ vs Häcken (18:45)
How qualifying for the knockouts works
The eight group winners automatically go through to the last 16. Additional knockout round play-offs will then be played before the round of 16, pitching the eight group runners-up against the third-ranked teams from the UEFA Champions League groups. The Europa League third-place sides switch to the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs.
A trio of top-two shoot-outs
A total of 12 teams have already secured qualification from the group stage with one matchday to spare. For eight of those sides, however, the job is not yet done as they go into Matchday 6 looking to top their section and thus avoid a knockout round play-off tie against one of the teams to drop out of the Champions League.
West Ham vs Freiburg, Brighton vs Marseille and Rennes vs Villarreal are all head-to-head battles which will decide the final placings in their respective groups, and as such plenty of drama is expected right until the end. As Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi said after the Seagulls confirmed their passage to the knockout stages with a win against AEK Athens: "Now our ambition is to top the group. We have to defeat Marseille – and they are a great team."
Qarabağ close in on history
Fans of Azerbaijani side Qarabağ endured an emotional rollercoaster ride in their 2-2 draw against Molde on Matchday 5. Needing a win to secure a place in Europa League knockout football for the very first time, they took an early lead before conceding in the 83rd and 88th minutes, only to score a dramatic equaliser deep into stoppage time.
That crucial late goal means Qarabağ now only need to match Molde's result against group winners Leverkusen when they face point-less Häcken to confirm a knockout-round play-off spot. "It was a very important point," said coach Gurban Gurbanov. "We have one game left and we must not be complacent. If we are too eager it could hinder us, so we must prepare calmly for the encounter."
Group C wide open
There is still all to play for in Group C, where Real Betis, Rangers and Sparta Praha are vying for the two qualification spots. Leaders Betis are on nine points, one point ahead of second-placed Rangers, who visit the Estadio Benito Villamarín on Matchday 6. Third-placed Sparta, meanwhile, travel to Aris Limassol on seven points knowing that a win would be enough to advance.
With all sorts of twists and turns lying ahead, those two matches will certainly be ones worth keeping a close eye on. "We wanted to take three points and it just means it's all to play for in the next game," Rangers midfielder Ross McCausland said after the draw with Aris on Matchday 5. "The boys know they're capable of getting a result against Betis, but we've got to go and show it."
What happens next?
Knockout round play-off draw: 18 December 2023
Knockout round play-offs: 15 and 22 February 2024
Round of 16 draw: 23 February 2024
Round of 16: 7 and 14 March 2024
Quarter-final & semi-final draws: 15 March 2024
Quarter-finals: 11 and 18 April 2024
Semi-finals: 2 and 9 May 2024
Final: 22 May 2024
Where is the 2024 UEFA Europa League final being played?
The 2023/24 UEFA Europa League season will conclude at Dublin Arena in the Republic of Ireland on 22 May 2024.
With a capacity in excess of 50,000, Dublin Arena is the home of the Republic of Ireland's national football and Ireland's rugby union team. First opened in 2010, the stadium will be staging its second UEFA Europa League decider, having been the venue for the all-Portuguese final of 2011 between Porto and Braga, when Radamel Falcao scored the only goal as the Dragons took the trophy.