Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Sevilla and a host of continental big guns as well as English clubs Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool swing into Europa League action in the last-32 knock out phase on Thursday.
In fact one clash has already begun on Tuesday as Turkey’s Fenerbahce took a 2-0 advantage over rusty Lokomotiv Moscow, who were playing their first match since the Russian winter break began.
Manchester United dream of redeeming their dull season by triumph in the Europa League, and in fact their coach Luis van Gaal won the old UEFA Cup with Ajax.
He takes United to little known Danish club Midtjylland, who are seeking a second English scalp after knocking out Southampton earlier in the season.
Formed just 16 years ago the Central Jutland club’s main threat could be Pione Sisto, a flashy winger born in Uganda but now a Danish under-21 international.
United made the trip Wednesday without their talismanic captain Wayne Rooney.
“Wayne Rooney is a notable absentee from the flight and the manager is expected to confirm why during his pre-match press conference,” the United website said.
Meanwhile local fans have prepared a banner with the phrase: ‘Welcome to Scamdinavia’ on it to welcome the 800 strong United fans who are in uproar having paid £71 ($101, 91 euros) for their tickets.
Jurgen Klopp returns to Germany for the first time as Liverpool travel to Ausburg buoyed by a 6-0 drubbing of Villa, where Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi all progressed after injury comebacks.
The Liverpool boss was trying to play down the event saying :”During the draw, I wasn’t thinking ‘please let it be a German club’. while the relegation threatened opponents were on fever pitch.
“This is an absolute dream game for all of us at Augsburg,” said the club’s director of sport Stefan Reuter, while coach Markus Weinzierl described it as a “highlight in the club’s history”.
In-form Argentinian striker Mauro Zarate lies in wait as English title chasing Tottenham swing into Florence to face Fiorentina hoping their own Argentine Erik Lamela can add to his five European goals form the qualifying round. Three of those came in the first half of their last European outing, a 4-1 win over Monaco.
Games of interest elsewhere includes Dortmund hosting Porto, Italian title contenders Napoli travelling to Villarreal and Sporting Lisbon hosting Bayer Leverkusen.
The return legs are played in a week’s time.
Anderlecht (BEL) v Olympiakos (GRE), Midtjylland (DEN) v Manchester United (ENG), Fiorentina (ITA) v Tottenham (ENG), Borussia Dortmund (GER) v Porto (POR), Villarreal (ESP) v Napoli (ITA), Saint-Etienne (FRA) v Basel (SUI), Sevilla (ESP) v Molde (NOR), Sporting Lisbon (POR) v Bayer Leverkusen (GER), Valencia (ESP) v Rapid Vienna (AUT), Augsburg (GER) v Liverpool (ENG), Sparta Prague (CZE) v Krasnodar (RUS), Galatasaray (TUR) v Lazio (ITA), Sion (SUI) v Braga (POR), Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) v Schalke 04 (GER), Marseille (FRA) v Athletic Bilbao (ESP)