Europa League draw leaves open potential Man Utd-Wolves semi-final
Manchester United could find themselves facing English rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-finals of the Europa League in Germany in August after Friday's draw for the latter stages of the tournament put the teams on a collision course.
While the UEFA Champions League is to be completed with a straight knockout mini-tournament in Lisbon in August, the Europa League will be played to a conclusion with an identical format in Germany. Both competitions were suspended in March as the global pandemic took hold.
The Europa League final will be played in Cologne on August 21. The quarter-finals and semi-finals will be played as one-off ties with Cologne, Duisburg, Duesseldorf and Gelsenkirchen all hosting games.
Before that, all last-16 ties must be completed. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United, who have been in fine form since the Premier League season resumed last month, are effectively already through to the last eight having won 5-0 away to Austrian side LASK in the first leg.
Assuming they progress, the 2017 Europa League winners will take on either Istanbul Basaksehir or FC Copenhagen in the quarter-finals on Monday, August 10 in Cologne. The Turkish side beat Copenhagen 1-0 at home in the first leg in March.
Meanwhile, Wolves drew 1-1 away to Olympiakos in the first leg of their last-16 tie. They are due to host the recently-crowned Greek champions in the return on August 5 or 6 and would then need to beat Sevilla -- who have won the Europa League and its precursor, the UEFA Cup, a record five times -- or Roma in the quarter-finals.
Manchester United and Wolves are both chasing Champions League qualification through the Premier League, with the Old Trafford team fifth, six points ahead of sixth-placed Wolves with four games left.
Fifth in England's top flight will be enough to qualify for the Champions League if Manchester City's two-year ban from Europe is upheld. But winning the Europa League also offers a route into next season's Champions League.
A semi-final meeting of the teams will take place in Cologne on August 16.
There are three German teams left in the Europa League, including Bayer Leverkusen. They won 3-1 away to Rangers in the first leg of their last-16 tie and will be confident of advancing to the last eight.
Leverkusen is barely 40 kilometres from Cologne, where the final will be played. They would play either Inter Milan or Getafe in the quarter-finals.
Only six of the eight last 16 first-leg matches were played in March. The other two ties -- Inter v Getafe and Sevilla v Roma -- will be decided as one-off matches on neutral ground in Germany.
As in the Champions League, all games are set to be played behind closed doors. This year's Europa League final was initially due to be played in the Polish city of Gdansk in late May before the health crisis forced a change of plans.
Gdansk will host next year's final instead.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Lindsey Parnaby