So, the Europa League reaches the quarterfinal stages, and there are a number of quality outfits still in the competition. This Thursday sees the first leg take place, so please read on for our preview of the mouthwatering matchups we look forward to this week:
Benfica vs Newcastle
It may have surprised some to see Newcastle emerge victorious in their two-leg clash with ultra-rich Russian outfit Anzhi in the last 16, and they now travel to Portugal to face a Benfica side sitting 4 points clear at the top of the Primeira Liga.
Newcastle are floundering near the bottom of the Premier League and may have to prioritise their survival in that competition over their Europa League exploits. If the Magpies choose to play a weakened team it could well be a painful night for the Tyneside team. Benfica are proven in European competition and far more experience over two legs than Newcastle.
Chelsea vs Rubin Kazan
Chelsea’s fortunes seem to swing endlessly to and fro. They overcame Man Utd in their FA Cup 6th Round replay on Sunday, and with a favourable draw in this competition they could well by eyeing a cup double. Kazan are having a relatively good season and lie in a similar position to Chelsea in their respective league tables. The neutral would have to fancy Chelsea for this one, but they will have to do a thoroughly professional job on Kazan – you don’t get to the quarterfinals of a major European competition if you’re no good.
Chelsea must also juggle various priorities with their position in the Champions League under threat alongside their continued participation in the FA Cup. Fernando Torres should get a run out and we’ll all be waiting (as we have been for the last two years) for him to return to his imperious best.
Fenerbahce vs Lazio
Fenerbahce are bidding for a first European semi-final appearance in their history and appear to be in good form. However they’re up against Lazio: a side who emphatically swept aside a good Stuttgart side in the previous round. This Lazio side is littered with quality players, but Fenerbahce also have a number of world-beaters they can call upon.
Fenerbahce will want to learn from Stuttgart’s demise by remaining in a position to win the game when they head to Italy. Stuttgart found themselves two goals down after the first-leg and the first-leg result more or less dictates the sort of game the second-leg will be.
Tottenham vs FC Basle
Tottenham should count themselves very lucky to be in the last-8 after a dreadful capitulation in the last-16 that saw them squeak home against a dominant Inter Milan. Spurs looked to have all but secured the tie with an emphatic 3-0 victory in the first-leg, but some sloppy defending and the absence of Gareth Bale meant that Internazionale fought back to take the tie to extra time at the San Siro. A rare goal from Emmanuel Adebayor spared the North-London club’s blushes, and Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to ensure a greater solidarity at the back over these two games.
Tottenham are also chasing Champions League football for next season, and this may well mean them fielding a weaker side against the Swiss side who sit atop the Swiss Raiffeusen Super League. Basle triumphed somewhat expectedly against Zenit in the last round and they’ll fancy causing another upset against Spurs in this tie.