The next round of the UEFA Europa League is probably going to be very good. There are no true duds left in the competition, and there are no heavy favorites who are on the ropes in their current tie. There's every reason to expect five or six extremely close ties out of the eight when the Round of 16 rolls around. And it can't come soon enough, because this round hasn't been terribly interesting.
A few of the 16 ties in the first knockout round are still in question, but most are not. Chelsea, Inter Milan, Benfica and Ajax are among the big sides who would have to fall apart to avoid going through. Zenit are very much in control against Liverpool, while there's not much reason to believe that Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Olympiakos or Napoli could fight their way back into their tie.
However, some ties are worth watching. Newcastle head to Kharkiv having failed to win at home, but also having managed to deny Metalist an away goal. They'll like their chances to go through. Tottenham lead Lyon by one goal, but also gave up an away goal at White Hart Lane. Three more ties also resulted in first leg draws, so there are five very competitive ties worth keeping an eye on.
Schedule (all times ET)
Rubin Kazan vs. Atletico Madrid - 12 p.m.
CFR Cluj vs. Inter Milan - 1 p.m.
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk vs. FC Basel - 1 p.m.
Metalist Kharkiv vs. Newcastle United - 1 p.m.
Lazio vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach - 1 p.m.
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Tottenham Hotspur - 1 p.m.
Racing Genk vs. VfB Stuttgart - 1 p.m.
Benfica vs. Bayer Leverkusen - 3:05 p.m.
Bordeaux vs. Dynamo Kiev - 3:05 p.m.
Chelsea vs. Sparta Prague - 3:05 p.m.
Fenerbahce vs. BATE Borisov - 3:05 p.m.
Hannover 96 vs. Anzhi Makhachkala - 3:05 p.m.
Liverpool vs. Zenit St. Petersburg - 3:05 p.m.
Olympiakos vs. Levante - 3:05 p.m.
Steaua Bucharest vs. Ajax - 3:05 p.m.
Viktoria Plzen vs. Napoli - 3:05 p.m.