The first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals takes place on Thursday evening, and we preview the quartet of upcoming matches.
Having at times felt like a very long, drawn-out competition, the Europa League has now officially reached its business end.
There are just eight teams left in the tournament, and the lure of a Champions League place for the winner adds even more spice to things.
There are four intriguing match-ups to look forward to over the next week or so, and none more so than Liverpool’s much-discussed showdown with Borussia Dortmund.
Reds look to Spring a Surprise
Borussia Dortmund vs. Liverpool – Westfalenstadion, April 7, 8:05pm.
There has been so much talk about Jurgen Klopp‘s return to his former club, but finally the action is close to getting underway.
Dortmund are understandably the overwhelming favourites to make it through to the semis, with Thomas Tuchel’s side unbeaten since Christmas.
They have a wealth of talent throughout their team, whether it be Mats Hummels in defence, Ilkay Gundogdan in midfield or Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack.
Liverpool will still fancy their chances of overcoming the Bundesliga giants, however, with the Reds often playing their best football against big sides.
It is sure to be a fascinating contest, and Liverpool must ensure they are not blown away like Tottenham were at Signal Iduna Park in the last round.
Can Sevilla Keep Europa League Hat-Trick Hopes Alive?
Athletic Bilbao vs. Sevilla – San Mames Stadium, April 7, 8:05pm.
Having won the last couple of Europa League titles, Sevilla really have made the competition their own in recent times.
To win it a third time in succession would be an incredible achievement, but first they have to conquer their La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-finals.
Unai Emery’s Sevilla side are an extremely talented, well-drilled unit, although their league form has been a little inconsistent this season.
The all-Spanish match-up could not be more evenly matched, with the two teams currently level on points in the league.
Bilbao knocked out Gary Neville’s Valencia in the last round – the result no doubt played a part in the former United man being sacked soon after – while Sevilla defeated Basel 3-0 on aggregate.
The goals of Kevin Gameiro have been important for Emery’s men this season, while former Liverpool target Yevhen Konoplyanka has performed well out wide since his move from Dnipro last summer.
The scintillating form of veteran Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz has been remarkable in 2015/16, with the striker scoring 31 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions.
The Spain international is likely to play a key role in the two games, and he will fancy his chances of ending Sevilla’s hat-trick dreams.
Villarreal Favourites to Down Sparta Prague
Villarreal vs. Sparta Prague – Estadio El Madrigal, April 7, 8:05pm.
Villarreal are enjoying an impressive season in La Liga, with only the brilliant trio of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid ahead of them in the standings currently.
Marcelino’s side look one of the teams to beat in this year’s Europa League, and they are fully expected to overcome Sparta Prague over the two legs.
Cedric Bakambu is a talented young forward who is one to watch, while Spurs flop Roberto Soldado is enjoying a return to form in his homeland, even though his scoring record doesn’t suggest that.
Villarreal outlined their credentials with a 2-0 aggregate win over a much-fancied Bayer Leverkusen side in the last-16, with Bakambu scoring both goals in the first leg in Spain.
Sparta, meanwhile, are the current outsiders to lift to trophy in May, but their emphatic 3-0 win at Lazio last month showed what they are capable of on their day.
It would be a shock if the Czech side managed to progress to the semis, and a little like Liverpool in Dortmund, they must stay in the tie during the first leg.
Shakhtar and Braga Do Battle in Low-Key Affair
Sporting Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – Estadio Municipal de Braga, April 7, 8:05pm.
While Dortmund-Liverpool and Sevilla-Bilbao both immediately stand out in terms of entertainment, Shakhtar Donetsk’s clash with Sporting Braga does not look like a classic.
Shakhtar are the marginally stronger of the two sides, even if they have had to endure seeing a string of star names leave the club in recent years.
The Ukrainian heavyweights got the better of Anderlecht last time around, winning 3-1 at home then sneaking a 1-0 victory in the return leg.
Former Arsenal striker Eduardo scored twice during those two games, and while his best days are now behind him, he remains a footballer of real quality.
Braga secured an emphatic victory themselves, though, with a 4-1 home thrashing of Fenerbahce overturning a 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
The Portuguese outfit are not littered with recognisable faces, by any means, but they have a strong team ethic and will cause Shakhtar problems.
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