European football’s other competition kicks off this week – and there’s plenty of stellar talent ready to shine
UEFA Europa League, from Thursday 14 February, BT Sport
We’ve reached the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League, which means that only the competition’s very best teams (including Arsenal and Chelsea) are left in the mix. It also means the path to glory is about to get even tougher, because sides knocked out of the UEFA Champions League are now involved.
You can be guaranteed that some of the continent’s top players will make their mark on the tournament when the action kicks off live on BT Sport, but for every Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Eden Hazard there are similarly dazzling players you might be less familiar with.
To save you any embarrassment when chatting to your football hipster friends, we’ve compiled our own scouting report to bring you six stars to know about when the UEFA Europa League moves up a gear this week.
1. Geoffrey Kondogbia
Celtic v Valencia, Thursday 14 February, 7.15pm, BT Sport 3 HD (CH 529)
Having previously played for Lens, Sevilla, Monaco and Inter Milan, Valencia midfielder Kondogbia is well acquainted with the different footballing hues of Europe. And while he grafts like few others on the pitch, the star is also the proud owner of an incredibly nimble pair of feet that have the power to mesmerise his opponents. If Celtic aren’t careful, he could run the show in Glasgow.
2. Markus Rosenberg
Malmö v Chelsea, Thursday 14 February, 8pm, BT Sport 2 HD (CH 528)
West Brom fans may remember Rosenberg’s underwhelming spell at the Hawthorns a few years back, but make no mistake: he’s a dangerous striker. Cool finishing, gangly legged athleticism, supreme confidence… he resembles fellow Swede Zlatan Ibrahimović in more ways than one. Back at his hometown club for a second time, Rosenberg is Malmö’s top scorer this season.
3. Samuel Chukwueze
Sporting Lisbon v Villarreal, Thursday 14 February, 8pm, BT Sport Extra
A word of warning to Sporting Lisbon: don’t let this guy get on his left foot and have a pop at the goal. Chukwueze, 19, is a lethal winger who’s deployed on the right, allowing him to cut inside and do the best impersonation of Arjen Robben you’ve ever seen. The Nigerian international also has bags of pace and the kind of twinkle-toed magic that puts defenders in a right old spin.
4. Sander Berge
Slavia Prague v Genk, Thursday 14 February, 5.55pm, BT Sport Extra
Recently linked with Tottenham Hotspur and Roma, emerging star Berge has impressed for Genk this season. Standing at an almighty 6 feet and 4 inches, you can’t miss him. But beyond his imposing frame, Berge tackles hard, is technically gifted and has an outrageously powerful shot. It’ll be his birthday when Genk travel to Prague, so expect him to have an extra spring in his step.
5. Kai Havertz
FC Krasnodar v Bayer Leverkusen, Thursday 14 February, 5.55pm, BT Sport Extra
Considered to be a future superstar of German football, midfield sensation Havertz scored three times in the last round as Bayer Leverkusen romped to the top spot in Group A. A thrilling blend of Toni Kroos and Mesut Özil, rumours of interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid persist – and it doesn’t take a genius to see why. Silky runs from deep, a great range of passing, an eye for goal, and the exuberance of youth make Havertz one to watch.
6. Maksim Skavysh
BATE V Arsenal, Thursday 14 February, 5.30pm, BT Sport 2 HD (CH 528)
Let’s drop a truth bomb: it’s unlikely that Belarusian champions BATE will beat Arsenal over two legs. In last season’s group stage the Gunners beat them with an aggregate score of 10-2. But if BATE are to stand any chance this time around, they’ll be looking to top scorer Skavysh to provide some magic. A clever finisher, the 29-year-old is also a powerful presence in the penalty box.
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