It’s around this time of year where two things happen. The first is that you can truly dissect who actual fans are when it comes to the clubs in the Europa League who were perennial Champions League participants.
You might see the light leave their eyes, but they’re watching.
The second thing is a resentment developing among younger supporters of those same clubs who start to turn on their parents for forcing them to inherit their football teams.
Some of them aren’t old enough to remember Man United win a treble or Arsenal’s unbeaten seasons, but my god, if they’re to ever see it again, they’ll have served their time.
But I’d just like to add a footnote here if possible. Those runs were just 20 years ago. Growing up, my father assured me that glory days were coming for Birmingham City, based on the fact we once fielded a half-decent XI back in 1956.
Small mercies, okay?
Thursday, 8pm, BT Sport 2
You need to be very clever when punting on two-legged affairs. Far too many people overlook the psychology of knockout competitions and the effect they have on the flow of the match in question.
Club Brugge, for as noble as their display was in Belgium, know they have to come and score at Old Trafford or they’re out.
Expect chances for United to break at pace early doors and cement the fate of the tie by half-time. Not that Man United have exhibited anything other inconsistency this year, but the majority of the time, teams just give them the ball and watch them get collectively confused to what to do with it.
Luckily for them, this game plays right into their hands.
Thursday, 8pm, BT Sport 2 Extra
This is a cushty number. There’s no hope of Ajax going through but there’s also no hope of Getafe leaving their own 18-yard box.
This is set up for Ajax to win the game without qualifying – a classic case of second-legitis.
Getafe are holding their own in La Liga, and this is no fluke. Are they at Ajax’s level? Certainly not, but they only needed to be for one leg and they’re in a favourable position. They could well be taken apart by a moment of magic, but looking for two of them against the most organised side in Spain after Atleti?
Thursday, 8pm, BT Sport ESPN
If you, like me, enjoy a narrative, you know what’s coming.
Celtic’s European adventures provide some of those rare occasions in football where unique, incredible things happen and scripts go flying out of windows.
Neil Lennon’s crew are a step above the Danish strugglers but they won’t be making it easy for themselves, as they generally don’t – unless they’re playing Barcelona.
Expect a feisty, late 2-1 winner from the Bhoys to see them over the line and another chaotic, joyous chapter of their European history to be added to the books.
*All odds correct at time of publication