Europa Conference League round of 16 draw reaction: Aston Villa gifted glamour Ajax tie

The UEFA Europa Conference League round of 16 draw has conjured up some exciting ties, including Aston Villa taking on four-times UEFA Champions League winners Ajax.

As such, we have reflected on three ties that should bring the entertainment factor, and pick out some early projected odds involving the teams, including some potentially key battles.

Астън Вила срещу Челси 2
Photo by Icon Sport

Europa Conference League round of 16 draw reaction: Ajax v Aston Villa among standouts

The following is a summary of the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) round of 16 draw, with the first leg of each tie set to commence on 7th March:

  • Servette v Viktoria Plzen
  • Ajax v Aston Villa
  • Molde v Club Brugge
  • Union Saint-Gilloise v Fenerbahce
  • Dinamo Zagreb v PAOK
  • Sturm Graz v Lille
  • Maccabi Haifa v Fiorentina
  • Olympiacos v Maccabi Tel Aviv
ANP MAURICE VAN STEEN – Photo by Icon Sport

Ajax v Aston Villa

The standout tie of the round sees Ajax play Aston Villa over two legs, with five Champions League titles between them. Of course, the UECL is a lesser competition, but one that both sides will still be desperate to win.

Ajax qualified for the round of 16 via the play-offs, but only managed to scrape past Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt, needing extra-time to win 4-3 on aggregate over the two legs. They are also struggling in the Eredivisie, sitting a huge 23 points behind league leaders PSV in fifth place.

Villa are 3/1 favourites to win the UECL, and so they should be confident of beating Ajax over two legs. However, the Dutch team's European pedigree means the Villans will have to be at their best.

The spotlight will be on 17-year-old Jorrel Hato, who has impressed Premier League scouts and is linked with a move to the English top flight, but he will face a tough test in Ollie Watkins, who boasts 13 goals and 10 assists in the league already this season.

Aston Villa to qualify – 1/5

Belgian First Division title odds
ANP | Hollandse Hoogte | GERRIT VAN COLOGNE – Photo by Icon sport

Union Saint-Gilloise v Fenerbahce

Union Saint-Gilloise caused an upset in the play-offs by beating one of the pre-favourites for the tournament Frankfurt 4-3 on aggregate, after an impressive 2-1 win in Germany on Thursday night. Their reward is a tie against Fenerbahce, who have won a record 28 Turkish championship titles.

Fenerbahce are 12/1 fourth-favourites to win the UECL, so beating them over two legs would be considered another major scalp for USG, but one they feel they can prosper. They are having another successful season, sitting eight points clear at the top of the Jupiter Pro League.

Fenerbahce are doing well domestically themselves, sitting just two points behind Galatasaray in second place in the Super Lig, in what is an exciting two-horse race for the title. They have by far scored the most goals in the division with 68, and have only lost one game all season.

USG's Mohammed Amoura is undoubtedly their main threat with 17 league goals this term, while the experience of Michy Batshuayi and Edin Dzeko up front could lead Fenerbahce to glory, with five goals between them in the UECL already.

Union Saint-Gilloise to qualify – 11/8

Mbwana Samatta
Photo by Icon sport

Dinamo Zagreb v PAOK

Dinamo Zagreb knocked out another of the pre-tournament favourites Real Betis in the play-offs, and have been awarded a tie against Greek side PAOK, who topped their qualifying group with 16 points ahead of another pre-tournament favourite Frankfurt.

After an impressive 1-0 away win in Spain, Zagreb held Betis to a 1-1 draw in the second leg of their play-off on Thursday night, going through 2-1 on aggregate. The 24-time Croatian champions also boast some European pedigree, having won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1966/67.

PAOK have been strong in the UECL before, having reached the quarter-finals of its first season in 2021/22, and so will prove tough opposition. They are one of two Greek teams in the round of 16, with Olympiacos set to play Maccabi Tel Aviv over two legs.

Bruno Petkovic is undoubtedly the danger man for Zagreb with 10 goals in the Croatian top flight this campaign, while PAOK like to share their goals around more – six players boast five or more goals in the Greek Super League, with Kiril Despodov top scorer on 10.

PAOK to qualify – 4/6

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Adam Clancy

Adam is a lead writer on Football Whispers. He is a big Arsenal fan, and also follows his local club Wealdstone, made famous by The Wealdstone Raider, of whom he has interviewed. Adam also follows darts, boxing, cricket and tennis, among many other sports.