West Ham have the odd fortune of sitting on their laurels while the knockout stages of the Europa League starts this month, pitting second-placed clubs of the group stage against third-placed Champions League group stage clubs.
This couldn’t come at a better time for us as we are trying to re-discover our early-season form.
So when the first and second legs of the first knockout stage roll by later this month, we’ll be able to sit from a place of comfort while analysing our competition.
First up we have Barcelona against Napoli. Even without Messi, Barcelona are expected to win and the Catalan giants are fourth favourites to win the entire competition. They actually haven’t competed in the Europa League since 2004-05 and I think this will be a test for the Spanish giants who have, until recently, been involved in the final stages of the Champions League competition.
Next up, Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis are expected to best Russian Zenit and it’s possible Moyes could face the manager that he was replaced by and then replaced, though Real Betis are among the bottom of the betting table in terms of winning the entire competition.
Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund are expected to dominate Rangers whose fans may well just enjoy the spectacle of facing the German behemoth, and their wunderkind Erling Haaland.
They dipped in form during the Champions League but are second only to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga at this time.
Rangers, who’ve faced a hard path in getting through into the Europa League knockout stages, are one of the least favoured to continue on after this leg.
Braga and Sheriff is a close match-up but the winner will undoubtedly make it no further than the next stage as both clubs are seated at the bottom of bookies’ table for eventual win.
West Ham group stage rivals Dinamo Zagreb will most likely succumb to Sevilla, who having dropped from the Champions League are now one of the Europa League power houses, and currently second in La Liga standings after Real Madrid.
Zagreb was lucky to pull out a second place finish in our group stage, and the Spanish side are expected not only to win this match but to be among the top five contenders to win the entire competition.
Atalanta, having been knocked out of the Champions League, are also expected to beat Arthur Masuaku’s former club Olympiacos, and are among one of the five contenders on gambling sites to win the trophy.
As are most of the Champions League teams, RB Leipzig is predicted to beat Real Sociedad but this is a match where anything could happen, due to the quality of both teams.
Porto versus Lazio is likely to see Porto come out on top but Lazio are a strong side, and we might see former Hammer Felipe Anderson help pull out a win, as he has featured and scored for Lazio in the group stages.
This would be another bit of West Ham irony, if Felipe Anderson were to face up to his former club.
Most West Ham fans will be joyful for the away day against an international powerhouse like Borussia Dortmund or Barcelona.
Some have longed for the day West Ham could prove their steel as a club on a European campaign against teams that formerly would seem out of reach.
But every West Ham also fears being burned by the bitter irony of a winning Pellegrini high line, or a bit of Felipe Anderson dribbling magic.
I see both of these as potentials, and also fear the possible dark horse dominance of Bayer Leverkusen or Eintracht Frankfurt in a later stage of the competition.
But the bookies are on our side in belief of having Mark Noble ride down the Barking Road with a trophy held high, as they have us ranked fifth among all the Europa League teams to win the trophy.