As we approach the end of the group stages of this season's UEFA competitions, many football fans are wondering what could be in store for their beloved teams.
Since a recent format change came into effect, which was introduced a few years ago to coincide with the advent of the UEFA Europa Conference League, a little-known and oft-misunderstood playoff stage has emerged as part of the UEFA Europa League.
Those less-than-eagle-eyed fans, or those fans whose teams regularly top their respective groups, may not know what comes next in the Europa League, and may not be aware of how it all works.
We are here to explain the Europa League knockout stage playoffs.
Who enters the UEFA Europa League knockout play-offs?
Ahead of the last 16 of the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League, certain teams will participate in a two-legged playoff tie to earn the right to compete in the next stage of the competition.
This knockout stage playoff pits those teams which finish second in their groups with teams that finish third in their UEFA Champions League groups.
This means eight elite clubs from UEFA's top competition will drop down to enter this playoff stage, where they will meet the UEFA Europa League group runners-up.
The winners of those two-legged playoff ties will then reach the Europa League last 16 proper, where they will face off against the eight teams which won their Europa League groups.
Who might play a Europa League knockout stage playoff tie this season?
As things stand, entering the final game week of the 2023/24 group stage, the following teams are currently second in their Europa League groups, and thus set to enter the playoff phase:
- Group A: Freiburg (West Ham United could also finish second)
- Group B: Brighton & Hove Albion
- Group C: Rangers
- Group D: Sporting Club (confirmed runners-up)
- Group E: Toulouse
- Group F: Villarreal
- Group G: Roma
- Group H: Qarabag
That's three British clubs currently facing down the possibility of a two-legged knockout stage playoff to reach the Europa League last 16.
If these teams do miss out on the top spot and have to settle for second place in their groups, they could face one of these teams, currently third in their respective UEFA Champions League groups, in the playoff:
- Group A: Galatasaray (Manchester United currently bottom could finish third)
- Group B: Lens
- Group C: Braga
- Group D: RB Salzburg
- Group E: Feyenoord (confirmed runners-up)
- Group F: Newcastle United
- Group G: Young Boys (confirmed runners-up)
- Group H: Shakhtar Donetsk
There are two of the biggest Premier League clubs who may have to navigate this tricky extra-knockout playoff tie to continue their European progress this season.
When is the draw for the Europa League knockout stage playoff?
The 2023/24 UEFA Europa League knockout round play-off draw will be held at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday 18 December.
UEFA say they will release seedings and details about the procedure on their website on the morning of the draw.
Five British clubs could all possibly end up among the 16 teams playing in this 2023/24 Europa League playoff.
It should be one of the most exciting parts of the competition for UK-based fans as those 16 clubs are whittled down to the eight lucky teams emerging from the playoff and entering the Europa League knockout stage.