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Europa League Draw: AC Milan, Galatasaray & Benfica learn their play-off fates

Monday’s Europa League play-off round draw panned out kindly for three Premier League clubs seeking continental glory this season.

Brighton & Hove Albion, Liverpool and West Ham United all progressed from their Europa League groups as winners and got to sit out the opening knockout round.

As the three-time winners, the Reds are widely considered the leading candidates to lift the trophy.

However, stiff competition comes from the Champions League.

AC Milan overtook Newcastle United at third in the so-called ‘group of death’ at the 11th hour, courtesy of a come-from-behind 2-1 win at St James’ Park.

Last season’s Champions League semi-finalists take on Ligue 1 outfit Rennes in an exciting Europa League knockout play-off tie, seeking amends for a stuttering Serie A campaign.

Despite a topsy-turvy start to the season, quality is bursting at the seams at San Siro, with Stefano Pioli boasting a promising-looking young squad capable of going the distance in Europe’s second-tier competition.

But Rennes, condemned to a runner-up finish in the Europa League Group F by a controversial late VAR call in a 3-2 home loss to Villarreal in the last group stage round, are no pushovers.

Star-studded Galatasaray slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Copenhagen in a Champions League Group A qualification six-pointer and now go up against Sparta Prague.

Like Milan, the Turks are favourites to reach the last-16, but they can’t take anything for granted.

Neither can the 2022/23 Europa League beaten finalists, Roma, as they face Feyenoord in arguably the most evenly-balanced knockout play-off tie.

Experienced Europa League campaigners Benfica are also in the mix, having pipped RB Salzburg to a coveted third place in a group featuring Real Sociedad and Inter Milan as the top-two sides.

Toulouse should be no match for Roger Schmidt’s ambitious squad, though they proved their continental credentials with a goal-glutted 3-2 home victory against Liverpool in November.

As it stands, the knockout play-off round will filter the competition, enhancing the chances for the Premier League trio’s title pursuit, potentially paving a smoother road towards Europa League glory.

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