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All hail Stoke - our most 'experienced' Europa League campaigners this season

Another disappointing week of European action saw five turned into one as the British sides plummeted out of the Europa League leaving just Stoke City as our lone survivor of the original qualifiers.

No one would have predicted that back in August, or put too much money on the likelihood that the Potters would be joined by two of our biggest clubs sent ingloriously packing from their Champions League groups.

But that's what happened and the draw for the knockout stages was made - and the newly formed English trio could have hardly had it any tougher.

Total Football's Phil Nicholas give us his pick of the Europa League action in the round of 32 - with a focus on how Stoke's involvement has gone down with Potters' fans. 

Porto vs Manchester City

If Roberto Mancini and his men were trying to keep their cards close to their chest over just how seriously they are to take participation in the Europa League then this draw should end that debate.

Against the holders and fellow Champions League drop outs City - the tournament favourites - will have to have all guns blazing to survive especially over in Portugal.

Although the destination is probably a relief travel wise to a club likely to be chasing at last three trophies in the new year, the opposition are hardy European campaigners and will be very determined to hang on to their trophy.

City's task looks like easing a touch should they progress, the last 16 could see them heading in the same direction against Sporting Lisbon or they could face Legia Warsaw.

Ajax vs Manchester United

The sort of tie that really shouldn't belong in the last 32 of Europe's second competition. The two clubs have won the European Cup seven times between them although they haven't met each other since 1976.

Ajax's luckless exit from the Champions League came in bizarre circumstances but this draw will act as a nice consolation prize for them. They'll be up for this in Amsterdam but United should have a little too much for them, although we did say that about Basel.

They will miss their usual Euro springtime treats at Old Trafford but if any tie available to them could have revived a bit of interest it was this one, not bad for starters and the Reds will go on to face either Lokomotiv Moscow or Athletic Bilbao if they prevail.

Stoke City vs Valencia

Stoke have already defied the odds in qualifying from a tough looking group in some style. Despite having to widen their Britannia stadium pitch to suit UEFA guidelines they've still managed to cause the same confusion and panic in foreign rearguards as they have domestically in the last few seasons.

There's no doubt that the silky Spanish who don't tend to travel well have a game on their hands when they arrive in the Potteries on a likely chilly night in late February.

If they succumb to Stoke's unique style and the bear pit Britannia, the Potters may well give themselves a real chance of causing an upset over in Valencia. It doesn't get much easier for Stoke should they turn over the form book, either PSV Eindhoven or Trabzonspor await in the last 16.

And there's more - Potters fans are in raptures... 

Despite the prospect of having to face one of Europe's top teams in the round of 32, the Potters are in raptures and can hardly wait to take on the might of Valencia.

Stoke have loved their Europa League adventure so far, the only downside were the destinations a rather cruel bunch of group games threw up for their travelling band.

Not so now, Spain in late February will do very nicely, living around the area as I do has already made me aware of the excitement this has caused, at least 1,500 Potters are expected to make the trip and this writer's Facebook wall is full of them swapping flight and coach details.

If this is to be their one and only season of channel hopping this raucous lot are going to enjoy it in style.

It might take a fair bit more to galvanise the emotions of the fans further north but the United fans should enjoy a trip to Amsterdam and City followers will prefer a warmish Portuguese destination to some of the other Eastern delights that could have been on offer.

There's a long way to go for the English clubs on the Europa League trail, who knows what might occur in the latter stages if they all make it through.


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