RC Lens' Elye Wahi celebrates a goal
UEFA Europa League

UEFA Europa League Preview: Round of 32 First Leg

UEFA Europa League Preview: Round of 32 First Leg

UEFA Europa League
Publish on 02/15 at 15:30 - E. DEVIN


Olympique de Marseille are kicking off the day’s action, but they’re one of four Ligue 1 teams in action today — here’s our preview of the three evening matches.

AC Milan vs. Stade Rennais

Rennes come into this match unbeaten in their last eight matches, dating back to a Matchday 6 loss to Villarreal. As well as climbing the table in Ligue 1, their good form, powered by the returning Martin Terrier and the strong play of Arnaud Kalimuendo has seen them reach the Coupe de France quarterfinals. Relatively quiet in the January window, the club added Ghana international Alidu Seidu in defence — he is expected to feature this evening, as well as midfielder Azor Matusiwa, and look to be going from strength to strength.

The hosts have reached this round of the competition by finishing third in their Champions League group. Despite some strong performances, including a win over Paris Saint-Germain at the San Siro, they were unable to get past the Ligue 1 leaders and eventual winners Dortmund to reach the knockout stages. Quiet in the transfer window as well, they’ve recently welcomed back Malick Thiaw and Yunus Musah from injury, and are comfortably third in Serie A, having won four of five matches, making this match one of the headliners of the round.

SL Benfica vs. Toulouse FC

Despite a frustrating loss to Nantes at the weekend, Les Violets have looked far sharper in 2024, battling PSG close in the Trophée des Champions and getting an impressive win over Stade de Reims a fortnight ago. With last year’s leading scorer Thijs Dallinga starting to find form,
Carles Martínez Novell’s side look a dangerous proposition, something to which Liverpool, one of the competition’s favorites can attest. Crucially, Toulouse will also welcome back midfielder Stijn Spierings, the Dutchman not having been registered for the group stage.

Benfica may been disappointed with a middling showing in the Champions League, but with just one loss to date domestically, they have had a strong season, and could go on a lengthy run in this competition. Level with Sporting Club atop the league, they’ll rely on a player familiar to followers of Ligue 1, Ángel Di María, to wreak havoc against the visitors’ defence, with leading scorer Rafa Silva also a threat, having netted 14 times in all competitions.

Racing Club de Lens vs. SC Freiburg

Unlike Rennes and Toulouse, who advanced from their groups, Lens have dropped down from the Champions League, and will now try to shake off a measure of disappointment. Despite a famous win over Arsenal, they stumbled against Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, who progressed at Le Sang et Or’s expense. But on recent form, that frustration seems a distant memory — Lens were hugely impressive in beating Strasbourg at the weekend and with record signing Elye Wahi rounding into form, Franck Haise’s side will be quietly confident of a result here.

Their opponents, Freiburg, have hit a poor run of form, losing three straight in the Bundesliga, but still sit seventh, a strong measure of their quality. Veteran manager Christian Streich has been in charge for more than twelve years, helping turn the club into European regulars and come runners-up in the 2022 DfB Pokal. He will have to make do without veteran defender Matthias Ginter, but will otherwise be able to field a strong team, whose attacking prowess saw them score an impressive 17 goals in the group stage.

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