The business end of the season always provides plenty of excitement and this Thursday will see the conclusion of the last-16 of the Europa League. With quarterfinal places at stake, there are some very interesting games hanging in the balance:
Rubin Kazan (0) vs (0) Levante
Russian side Kazan will have been delighted to return from Spain with a clean sheet last week and will be hoping home advantage will be enough to help them into the last 8. The one thing they won’t want to do is concede at home as that would leave them needing two goals to make it through. A potentially mouthwatering clash, with both sides needing to score, Levante are favourites but not by much.
Zenit St Petersburg (0) vs (2) FC Basel
Zenit were somewhat shocked in Switzerland last week and have a lot of work to do to save this tie and make the quarterfinals. The Russian side are without Luis Neto who received a late red card last week and struggled to break down a formidable Swiss outfit last week. Basel will arrive in Russia happy to slow the game down and soak up the Zenit pressure. It’s not over for Zenit, but they really need to pull something out of the bag this time.
Inter Milan (0) vs (3) Tottenham
Internazionale have it all to do against an in-form Tottenham side at the San Siro. Inter were poor last week, and will start the game 3 goals behind. Spurs superstar Gareth Bale is missing for this one having picked up a yellow card last week for simulation. It will be interesting to see how both teams play this one as one Tottenham goal would see Inter needing 5 on the night to make it through. Spurs will be content to defend and play on the counter, and unfortunately for Inter, this task will probably be beyond them.
Bordeaux (0) vs (1) Benfica
This tie is still very much alive with Benfica bringing a slender lead to the French wine capital. Bordeaux need to find their shooting boots after returning home from Portugal without an away goal. Realistically Bordeaux need two goals, as one will just take them into extra time. They (like so many other teams this week) also need to be aware of the away goal rule, and they will have to perform a balancing act – conceding would be a disaster and would leave them needing three.
Chelsea (0) vs (1) Steaua Bucharest
Despite losing last week and heading back from Romania with no away goal, Chelsea will be confident they can overturn their deficit against Bucharest at Stamford Bridge. Their comeback in the FA Cup against Man Utd on Sunday will have given them a renewed spirit and they’ll be hoping their fans can will them on to defeating the Romanian side in London.
Fenerbahce (1) vs (0) Plzen
Czech side Plzen are down but not out and travel to Turkey with it all still to play for. However, Fenerbahce will be confident at home after ending Plzen’s unbeaten home record last week. Plzen are one of many sides who need to score twice to be sure of a safe passage through to the last 8, but Fenerbahce have significant firepower in superstars like Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt and defeating the Turkish superpower at home might prove too much for the Czech outfit.
Lazio (2) vs (0) VfB Stuttgart
Lazio will be confident of a safe passage into the last 8 after their emphatic victory over Stuttgart last week. Stuttgart have no choice but to go for it, but Lazio will thrive on the counter attacking opportunities this will afford them. Lazio haven’t lost a European game this season and despite Stuttgart’s fine away record, it seems likely that this match will signal the end of their European participation for this season.
Newcastle (0) vs Anzhi Makhachkala
This match promises to be the tie of the round as Newcastle host moneybags outfit Anzhi back on Tyneside. This match will Samuel Eto’o’s 100th European appearance and he’ll be looking to make his mark, but he’ll be up against tough resistance with Newcastle yet to lose at home in Europe this season. With Newcastle not able to build upon their impressive Premier League run last season, the Europa League signals their only realistic hope of European football next season, and they’ll certainly want to spoil Anzhi’s party.