The beginning stages of the Europa League can seem to go on for quite some time, but now that we’re getting towards the business end of the season there are some truly cracking ties to look forward to. Check out our preview of the last 16 first leg ties:
Anzhi Makhachkala v Newcastle
A strong Anzhi outfit meet a struggling Newcastle side who perhaps would rather they were no longer in the competition as they attempt to struggle away from the Premier League’s relegation zone. Anzhi have been imperious in Europe this season; winning all seven of their home games and with players like Samuel Eto’o at their disposal, it’s likely to be hard a task for the Magpies in Moscow.
Plzen v Fenerbahce
Czech side Plzen and Turkish team Fenerbahce meet for the first time in a UEFA competition. Plzen are strong at home, having won their last seven home games in the Europa League. Fenerbahce will look to spoil that record, and with ex Premier League starts Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles, the neutral would have to conclude that they’ve got a good chance of doing just that.
Steaua Bucharest vs Chelsea
Despite their iffy form of late, Chelsea should be considered favourites for their clash against the Romanian side. The interim tenure of Rafa Benitez is likely to be regarded as a failure whatever unfolds, but the Spaniard could go some way to redeeming his reputation by delivering silverware in the shape of the Europa League trophy.
VfB Stuttgart vs Lazio
Stuttgart have struggled at home in the Europa League this season and are up against a strong Lazio side whose ranks are swelled by German legend Miroslav Klose. Stuttgart don’t have a great record against Italian teams either, so whilst it’s all still to play for, Lazio appear pretty formidable.
Benfica vs Bordeaux
Benfica are old hands when it comes to the Europa League having qualified for the quarterfinals twice in the last 3 seasons. They’re bidding for a third last-8 spot against French side Bordeaux; a side who defeated them in their only other meeting way back in the 1986/1987 season.
FC Basel vs Zenit St Petersburg
The statistics point forward to this game being a low scoring affair given that FC Basel rarely concede at home and Zenit rarely score away. Basel enter the game on the back of a five game unbeaten run, while Zenit have only won one of their last ten away games in Europe.
Levante vs Rubin Kazan
Spanish side Levante have done exceptionally well in their maiden season in European competition but Kazan will be looking to halt their progress. The statistics suggest this game could be a cracker, with both sides in good form in Europe. Premier League fans may remember Levante striker Obafemi Martins who plied his trade with Newcastle United for a couple of years. Martins has shown a mix of form since then, but on his day he can be deadly, and with Martins also having played for Kazan; they’ll be looking to use their knowledge of his game to keep him quiet.
Tottenham vs Inter Milan
No doubt the tie of the round: High-flying Spurs are matched against Italian giants Internazionale. Last time the two sides met Gareth Bale was starting to show glimpses of the consistent quality he is now showcasing – he scored a stunning hat-trick in the San Siro and was instrumental in Tottenham’s win back at White Hart Lane. Bale is in a different class these days and for Inter to win they’re going to have to find a way to keep Bale quiet. Should be a very interesting tie.