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Europa League: Barca set for different European voyage

The Europa League and Europa Conference League resume on Thursday with Barcelona featuring in UEFA's secondary tournament for the first time in 18 years.

La Blaugrana finished third in their Champions League group and therefore will have to drop down a level for the rest of the campaign to compete for a trophy they are priced at 8/1 to win.

All teams who finished third in their Champions League groups will play the clubs that placed second in the Europa League group stage in what is known as the "Knockout round play-offs" - a format also adopted by the Conference League.

It means there are plenty of big matches at this stage of the competition, and as a consequence, there will be some big-name casualties this month.

Barca seeking to get back to the big time

Often a staple of the Champions League knockout rounds, Barcelona find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they prepare to get their Europa League journey underway with a tricky-looking tie against Napoli.

The Catalan giants have steadily improved since Xavi took over as head coach in the autumn, but they are still a long way shy of where they were a decade ago when they looked close to being unbeatable, with their current boss the heartbeat of that team.

In La Liga, they are unbeaten in eight matches but four draws indicate a need for more ruthlessness.

They face a very tough opponent in Napoli, with Luciano Spalletti's men third in the Serie A table, just two points off top spot.

Barca are likely to be viewed by other teams as the scalp of the competition so it will certainly be very interesting to see how they and Napoli approach the match - the home side are available to win at 10/11 with Napoli 3/1, and a draw 13/5.

Rangers flying the flag for British teams

With West Ham not entering the fray until the round of 16, Rangers are the sole British competitors in this play-off round and they have been handed arguably the toughest draw of the lot as they travel to Germany to take on Borussia Dortmund on Thursday.

Domestically, after going unbeaten through the whole of last season, the Gers have found this campaign slightly tougher with the departure of former boss Steven Gerrard and a rejuvenated Celtic largely to explain.

They are second in the table, a point behind Celtic and have failed to win any of their last three away games.

Therefore, there might be a bit of trepidation when they visit the Westflastadion to face Marco Rose's free-scoring Dortmund outfit.

Dortmund failed to progress in the Champions League by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record against Sporting Lisbon, but with players such as Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham in their ranks, they can be a match for anyone in the Europa League.

Dortmund can be backed to win the first leg at 4/11, with Rangers at 7/1, and a draw priced at 4/1.

Related Europa League News

Europa League: Gers face difficult Dortmund task

La Liga: Can Sevilla rise to be kings of Spain?

La Liga: No quick fix for Xavi's Barcelona

Premier League: Rodgers looks to be on borrowed time

Europa kings Sevilla back in action

When talking about potential winners of the Europa League, it would always be unwise to rule out Sevilla given their prowess in UEFA's secondary competition.

The Rojiblancos have won the tournament a record six times, last tasting victory in 2020 when they defeated Inter Milan 3-2 in a pulsating contest.

This season, they look to be the only team in La Liga with a realistic chance of catching Real Madrid to claim the title and their defensive record in particular puts them in a fabulous position to go on and lift the Europa League once more.

Julen Lopetegui's men have let in only 16 goals in 24 La Liga matches this season and even though they only won one of their six Champions League group games, they still only let five goals go past them.

Dinamo Zagreb are their first knockout round challengers and Sevilla can be backed at 4/11 to secure a first-leg advantage, with Zagreb 8/1, and the draw 15/4.

Leicester and Celtic in Conference League action

The brand new Europa Conference League is in its first knockout stage and the British representatives are Leicester and Celtic.

Both teams head into their matches on Thursday in contrasting form - Leicester, after narrowly missing out on Champions League football in the last two seasons - have taken a real tumble and look like finishing in mid-table in the Premier League unless there is a sharp upturn in form.

Brendan Rodgers' side have only won two of their last seven games in all competitions and have dropped into Europe's tertiary competition after finishing third in their Europa League group.

A home match against Danish outfit Randers could prove to be the ideal environment for Leicester to get back to winning ways, as they look to return to the top of their game.

Ange Postecoglou on the other hand appears to have answered all the questions posed to him earlier this season, with Celtic in the middle of a fabulous 17-match unbeaten run, which included a 3-0 dismantling of Rangers at Celtic Park.

They have shown plenty of attacking flair and are becoming ruthless in their approach, and they face a team with a similar attitude on Thursday in Bodo-Glimt.

With the Norwegians playing their first competitive match since December due to the Tippeligaen being a summer league, this match could prove ideal for a fit and firing Celtic.

Outright, Leicester can be backed at 11/2 to become the inaugural Conference League winners while Celtic are priced at 25/1.

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