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Final Europa League knockout places up for grabs


Paris (AFP) – There will be some jangling nerves as the Europa League group stage concludes on Thursday – but not many, with the likes of Arsenal, AC Milan and Lyon already through.

Of the 48 teams in the 12 groups, 16 have already ensured qualification and 15 are eliminated.

That leaves 17 clubs scrapping for the remaining eight spots in the round of 32 draw on December 11.

For some of those qualified, first place, and a seeding that ensures they avoid one of the eight teams dropping down from the Champions League, are still in play but that might not be enough incentive to put out their strongest teams for a December midweek game.

The stars are even less likely to come out for the big clubs who have already won their groups.

For Lazio’s trip to Belgium, manager Simone Inzaghi could make 10, or even 11, changes, from the line-up that won at Sampdoria on Sunday. Suso and Nikola Kalinic, who started in attack for Milan in Serie A on Sunday, are not even in the squad for the visit to Rijeka. Even if Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil appear at the Emirates, they will be sitting and watching and safely and warmly wrapped up. 

But Arsene Wenger insisted his approach won’t change too much for the visit of BATE Borisov despite having wrapped up top spot in Group H. 

“I have many players available who need competition. Next week we go into a week with three games and so some players need competition, some experienced players. We’ll play quite an experienced team tomorrow,” Wenger said. 

Three groups end with a second versus third showdown. In Group A, Slavia Prague need only draw at home against Astana. The Kazakh team need to win to take second. In Group D, Austria Vienna must win at home against AEK Athens, otherwise the Greeks go through. In Group J, Athletic Bilbao will advance with a draw away to Zorya Luhansk in Lviv where the Ukrainians must win to nab second place. 

Ludogorets, in Group C, are, seemingly, best placed. The Bulgarians would be sure with a draw away to disappointing Germans Hoffenheim but could lose and go through if Basaksehir cannot beat group leaders Braga in Istanbul. 

Marseille are in a similar position. While they need a draw at home against Group I winners Salzburg, the French side can lose and advance if third-place Konyaspor of Turkey draw with fourth-place Vitoria in Guimaraes. 

If there is a winner in Belgrade between Red Star and Cologne, that team will go through in second place behind Arsenal. A draw and BATE Borisov could sneak through with a win against the Gunners at the Emirates.

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