With a spot in next season’s Champions League, as well as silverware, on the line there is added eagerness to lift the Europa League trophy.
Most of the quarter-finals are finely balanced going into the second leg, and we’ve previewed all four of them here.
Chelsea vs Slavia Prague
(1-0 on aggregate)
Although Chelsea lost to Liverpool on Sunday, it could all have been very different if Eden Hazard, and not Mohamed Salah, had his shooting boots on. After the Belgian moved to his usual position on the left, he sprung into life, and Maurizio Sarri would be wise to play him there from the start on Thursday.
The Italian will be reassured by the fact that their opponents didn’t have an easy time of it at the weekend either. Slavia had to play the Prague derby against Sparta, and could only come away with a 1-1 draw.
Chelsea might be comforted by their one-goal lead, but the match itself last week was very close. The shot count narrowly favoured the Czech side, 9-8 in total or 3-2 in shots on target, and they also made more successful passes in the final third.
Home advantage may be enough for the Blues — they’ve lost only three of their 29 games at Stamford Bridge in all competitions this season.
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Benfica
(2-4 on aggregate)
The first leg of this tie was heavily affected by the red card for Evan Ndicka in the 20th minute. It gave Benfica a penalty, and their first goal of the night, and forced the German side into 70 minutes with ten men.
Joao Felix, who scored a hat-trick in the first leg, was back at it at the weekend with a goal in Benfica’s 4-2 win over Setubal.
Frankfurt, meanwhile, lost 3-1 at home to Augsburg, who were 15th before the latest round of Bundesliga fixtures. They also suffered another red card, with Gelson Fernandes being dismissed for two yellows. The ban won’t apply to the Europa League, of course, but perhaps it hints at a lack of discipline setting into the side.
Napoli vs Arsenal
(0-2 on aggregate)
Unai Emery is something of a master at the Europa League, having won it three times with Sevilla. In fact, cup competitions in general seem to be his thing. He won all four domestic cup titles available to him in his two years at Paris Saint-Germain as well.
Although they take a 2-0 lead to Italy, Napoli got a comfortable 3-1 away win at Chievo at the weekend, meaning they’ll have regained some confidence.
Arsenal may have won themselves on Monday, but the 1-0 win against Watford could have been more comfortable given that they spent the vast majority of the match with a man advantage.
With the aggregate scoreline as it is, Napoli need to be aiming for a three-goal win to go through. They’ve managed that in five of their 22 home matches so far this season, which is just under a one-in-four rate.
The Gunners, though, have only lost by a three-goal margin once, home or away, this season (against Liverpool in December). Napoli scoring three goals without reply seems unlikely, but they could still make the tie tight.
Valencia vs Villarreal
(3-1 on aggregate)
Valencia do not just have the edge in the aggregate and with home advantage, but in their matches this season too.
Their first meeting of the season, at Villarreal’s Estadio de la Cerámica, ended goalless. The second, back in January, resulted in a 3-0 win for Valencia. In the league table as a whole, Valencia are sixth, Villarreal are 15th.
To make matters worse for Villarreal, their opponents this Thursday won 3-1 at the weekend, against Levante, so their good form from the first leg has not wavered.
It’s hard to see anything other than Valencia making it to the Europa League semi-finals.
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