Europa League Quarter-Final 1st Leg Preview
Europa League Quarter-Final 1st Leg Preview
Just eight teams remain, and there is one team that will stand prominent yet again as favourites to lift the Europa League trophy. With the UEFA Europa League knockout stage in full swing, what teams will crack under the pressure and who will rise above to progress through to the last four?
Slavia Prague v Chelsea — Chelsea Look to Take the Initiative in the Czech Republic
Chelsea’s long-haul trip to Prague presents Maurizio Sarri’s men with what is an unwelcome challenge in its own right. Regardless of the logistics, and how they may affect Chelsea’s thrust for the top-four over in the Premier League, this is a tie that the Blues should negotiate with ease.
There is no greater backing for that belief than Chelsea’s last Europa League trip abroad. Despite being all but through to the quarter-finals after a 3-0 defeat of Dynamo Kiev at Stamford Bridge, there was no stopping Chelsea at all, as they ran out 5-0 winners. Olivier Giroud proved that he is still an excellent utility player, bagging a hat-trick, with 2018/19’s breakout star Callum Hudson-Odoi rounding off the scoring.
Subsequently, Chelsea visit Prague boasting a strong away-form in recent years, netting nine times in their last three away visits. However, the score-line attained by Sarri’s men in Kiev was an anomaly, as all of Chelsea’s five Europa League away wins before that night had yielded a mere one-goal margin.
Chelsea’s ‘Dynamo demolition’ also marked the third game in succession to see Hudson-Odoi score Chelsea’s last goal on the night, giving him a reputation as a real game-changer very early in his career. That strike against Dynamo Kiev was also Hudson-Odoi’s first in a European away fixture, making it an event that served to break down another personal barrier.
Naturally, Slavia Praha will want to be more than spear-carriers in this tie, and their recent form in this competition gives the Czech side a real chance of taking Chelsea all the way. They scored what many considered to be the shock of the round of 16, eliminating Sevilla over two legs, by negotiating a gruelling 120 minutes at home by a 4-3 scoreline, after drawing 2-2 in southern Spain.
As a result, Slavia are now unbeaten in five Europa League games across all venues.
Arsenal v Napoli — The Gunners Host Serie A’s Neapolitan Giants
This tie is seen as Arsenal’s first real test in the competition. Although coming from 3-1 down on aggregate to beat Rennes in the previous round was no mean feat, the task of dispatching a determined Serie A side long since out of their domestic title race is an altogether different proposition.
With the away goals rule set to be at its merciless best once again, seizing the early initiative will be high on Unai Emery’s agenda come Thursday evening. His men have the perfect momentum to do just that, with Arsenal’s home form since the turn of the year being astounding, and a 3-1 FA Cup defeat to Manchester United standing as the only blot on the record.
Despite Arsenal coming into this match on the back of one of their worst performances of the season on Sunday, Napoli know they are very much up against it. Still reeling from a defeat in their last away match, the Neapolitans also arrive in London with a chequered away record in this season’s Europa League, winning once and losing once – both times by a 3-1 scoreline. The defeat came in their last trip abroad, at Salzburg.
Napoli’s away record against English representatives in European competition is also dreadful in recent times. Three competitive matches on English soil to current members of the Premier League have yielded three successive defeats, including a loss at the Emirates Stadium in October 2013.
Villarreal v Valencia — Spanish Adversaries go Toe-To-Toe
These sides are experiencing contrasting seasons over in La Liga. Villarreal’s 4-4 draw with Barcelona in their last home game saw them move above the relegation zone, but they remain highly vulnerable to the drop. It was a bittersweet result which saw them go 2-0 down then fight back to lead 4-2, before conceding twice in stoppage time.
How the ‘Yellow Submarine’ react to that result is unpredictable at best. The fact that six of the last seven competitive games at Estadio de la Cerámica have now produced three (or more) goals could pave the way for an entertaining clash with Valencia.
Valencia come into this clash on the back of a 2-0 loss by lowly Rayo Vallecano at the weekend. It is a result that has served to throw their top-four credentials into new depths of doubt.
While Valencia are not yet going for broke in the Europa League, their form in the competition is admirably consistent with Valencia yet to suffer defeat in the competition.
Benfica v Eintracht Frankfurt — Benfica Braced for Bundesliga Opposition
Benfica booked their place in the quarter-finals following a hard-fought extra time win at home to Dinamo Zagreb.
Prior to being dumped out of the Champions League back in December, Benfica had also lost just once at home in European football all season, going down honourably to top-seeds Bayern Munich.
Fated to face Bundesliga opposition yet again, Benfica know they face a tall task in getting to the semi-finals. Eintracht Frankfurt enter this round unbeaten in fifteen matches across all competitions, with that run including five straight victories prior to this trip – four of which have seen Frankfurt end up with a clean sheet.
Since September 2018, Frankfurt have won eight out of ten Europa League matches played anywhere, either drawing – or winning by a close margin – each of their last seven Europa League away trips.
Americans secured the top three spots at last year’s tournament as Reed finished one shot ahead of Fowler and two clear of Spieth. However, Europe did well in 2017 as Garcia and Rose finished top of the leaderboard and went into a playoff to decide the winner. The previous year saw three Englishmen finish in the top four as Willet won it, Lee Westwood was T2 and Casey was fourth. In 2014, Rose was T2 and McIlroy was fourth, so Europeans have a pretty decent recent history at Augusta, although home stars have been in the ascendancy.
Who is Current Favourite to win the Europa League?
The might of the Premier League is already well-evidenced, by the fact that all six teams which entered European group stages directly last autumn remain in-situ. The respect now commanded by Premier League clubs – in both European competitions – is reflected by the fact that English teams now top both outrights.
Over in the Champions League, Manchester City are the outright favourites, while Chelsea top the Europa League Outright Index. Napoli are currently second-favourites, followed by Valencia, while Arsenal stand as fourth-favourites.
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