By Thursday night, there will only be 16 teams remaining in the Europa League. A clearer picture, then, will begin to emerge as to which clubs are contenders for the trophy.
And in most of the round of 32 ties, following last week’s first legs, it remains all to play for. Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea are in a strong position to progress, while Arsenal must overturn a one-goal deficit against BATE Borisov.
Here are some of the standout fixtures on Thursday evening.
Arsenal vs BATE Borisov
For Arsenal, elimination at this stage would be nothing less than an embarrassment. Unai Emery’s side were disappointing in the first leg, falling to a 1-0 defeat in Belarus against a side that had not played a competitive game since December.
At the Emirates, they will be expected to respond. Even without Alexandre Lacazette, who was sent off late on in the first leg, the Gunners should have too much for their opposition at home.
BATE, though, have given themselves a chance. They will have confidence and belief following their shock victory, and have shown already that they can be dogged and resilient in defence.
It is essential that Emery gets his team selection right for this one. His reputation as a master of the Europa League knockout stages is very much on the line.
Chelsea vs Malmo
As was the case in Sweden last week, this game represents another opportunity for Sarri and his players to bounce back from a humbling defeat.
Chelsea were beaten 2-0 by Manchester United in the FA Cup on Monday, and there were clear chants of descent against Sarri at Stamford Bridge. Nothing less than a convincing win on Thursday, you feel, will bring some of those fans back on side.
The Blues are in a commanding position after the first leg, a 2-1 win at the Swedbank Stadion. It could have been even better had it not been for Anders Christiansen’s late goal, which gives Malmo a glimmer of hope ahead of the second leg.
Chelsea, though, will see this as a chance to rebuild fragile confidence prior to their League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.
Real Betis vs Rennes
This was undoubtedly the standout game of last week in the Europa League, a 3-3 draw between two sides full of attacking intent.
It remains finely poised, although Real Betis will be favourites having scored three crucial away goals. Diego Lainez’s injury time equaliser could well prove decisive.
Betis, as is usually the case under Quique Setien, dominated possession against their French opposition in the first leg. They had 75 per cent of the ball and almost three times as many shots. But they are often guilty of leaving themselves short at the back.
A similar display of counter attacking football at the Benito Villamarin Stadium might prove successful again for Rennes. Regardless of the outcome, expect more goals and another entertaining game.
Valencia vs Celtic
Celtic have left themselves with what appears to be an insurmountable deficit ahead of their second leg against Valencia.
The Spaniards left Celtic Park with a 2-0 victory, thanks to goals from Denis Cheryshev and Ruben Sobrino, and are in pole position to reach the last 16.
Celtic’s fans have not given up, though. Ten thousand of them are expected to travel to Valencia, anticipating a potentially famous comeback, as unlikely as it might seem.
Marcelino’s side are strong at the Mestalla, losing only once there in La Liga this season. Celtic are in excellent form domestically, though, winning their last eight in a row, and Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful of inspiring his side to victory.
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