Newcastle United will play their final match of Europa League Group Play on Thursday when they travel to Bordeaux to take on the group leaders. It's mostly a meaningless match, as both teams have qualified for the Round of 32, but it does matter for seeding purposes. NUFC have had a less than stellar domestic campaign and have (probably rightly) blamed their struggles on having to juggle European responsibilities. So, will it be worth the trouble to play first team players in an attempt to get a better seed in the next draw?
Let's take a look at how the next round shakes out. The field of 32 teams is made up of 2 teams from each group, plus 8 teams that placed third in group play in the Champions League. The field is cut in half for the draw. Twelve first place teams plus the first four CL dropouts, ordered by points and then goal differential, are placed in Group 1. Group 2 is of course made up of the remainder. Teams are then drawn against squads from the opposite group. At this stage in the competition teams may still not be drawn against other teams from the same association. The main advantage afforded Group 1 teams (other than being drawn against ostensibly inferior competition) is that they play at home for the second leg. In my mind, that's not enough of an incentive to go for broke. Playing against a weaker opponent would certainly be desirable, but being placed in Group 1 is no guarantee of a favorable matchup. We already know that teams such as Napoli and Inter will be in Group 2, while Metalist Kharkiv has managed to top their group. When all is said and done, we may be able to point to either group as the stronger, but in the end it will all come down to the luck of the draw.
Here's how the groups for the draw shake out going into the final matchup of Group Play:
|Group 1||Group 2|
|A||Anzhi Makhachkala OR Liverpool||Anzhi Makhachkala OR Liverpool OR Young Boys|
|B||Atletico Madrid OR Viktoria Plzen||Atletico Madrid OR Viktoria Plzen|
|D||Bordeaux OR Newcastle United||Bordeaux OR Newcastle United|
|E||Steaua Bucuresti OR Stuttgart OR Copenhagen||Steaua Bucuresti OR Stuttgart OR Copenhagen|
|G||Racing Genk OR Basel||Racing Genk OR Basel OR Videoton|
|J||Lazio OR Tottenham Hotspur||Lazio OR Tottenham Hotspur OR Panathinaikos|
|K||Metalist Kharkiv||Bayer Leverkusen|
|L||Hannover 96 OR Levante||Hannover 96 OR Levante|
|CFR Cluj||Dynamo Kiev|
|Olympiacos||Zenit St. Petersburg|
I've also put together a list of the relevant fixtures. I'll update the above table as places are finalized. Times are GMT.
EL: Young Boys vs. Anzhi Makhachkala, 1800
EL: Udinese vs. Liverpool, 1800
EL: Viktoria Plzen vs. Atletico Madrid, 1800
EL: Bordeaux vs. Newcastle United, 1800
EL: Stuttgart vs. Molde, 1800
EL: Copenhagen vs. Steaua Bucuresti, 1800
EL: Racing Genk vs. Basel, 2005
EL: Sporting CP vs. Videoton, 2005
EL: Maribor vs. Lazio, 2005
EL: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Panathinaikos, 2005
EL: Levante vs. Hannover 96, 2005
The draw for the Round of 32 and the Round of 16 will be held on December 20.