The crunch time in the UEFA Europa League is upon us and 8 teams are already trying to reach this year’s final in Lyon and a possible participation in the group stage of UEFA Champions League next season. Favorites Arsenal and Atletico Madrid play at home and will be looking to gain an advantage in their ties against CSKA Moskva and Sporting CP respectively. Marseille is the only French team left in the competition which can participate in the final on French soil. Lazio faces at home one of the surprise packages of the tournament – RB Salzburg.
Lazio – Salzburg
The Italians are showing plenty of attacking sparkle this season as his ex-player who is now in charge Simone Inzhagi is leading them to a potential first final after 20 years. In 1998 Lazio lost the final and now will be hoping to improve their best record in the UEFA Europa League which saw them crash out on the same stage on the hands of Fenerbahce. Salzburg stunned Dortmund in the previous round and are currently on a course of 19 games unbeaten in Europe (W11 D8), so another surprise might be on the horizon. Both teams are experienced enough on the European stage and Lazio will be looking to end the Austrians long unbeaten run. The side from Rome is still fighting for the 4th spot in Seria A which will give them chance playing in the Champions League, but everything they do in Europe will be considered as a bonus. Ciro Immobile will lead the line again and will be looking to add to his 6 goal tally. Salzburg showed that they can be very dangerous on counter-attacks and Berisha and Dabbur can provide a test for the Italians defense.
Atletico – Sporting CP
Atlético Madrid has won all four games in this season’s competition since switching from the Champions League and will aim to make it five against Sporting CP, who has struggled on the road. Atletico won the competition in 2012 and 2014, only to lose Champions League finals against city rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016. Antoine Griezmann is remaining a main striking option as speculation is mounting whether the Frenchman will stay beyond this season in the Spain capital. Barcelona is rumored to be interested in his signature and he is yet to pledge his future to Atleti.
Arsenal – CSKA Moskva
Arsene Wenger’s men are playing their debut Europa League campaign and it will be a huge bonus for the legendary French manager if his men manage to lift the trophy on the first time asking. CSKA Moskva will be looking for another impressive away performance after surprisingly stunned Lyon in the previous round. If they want to stand a chance, their iconic keeper must have his day like he did in France a couple of weeks ago – Igor Akinfeev made 12 crucial saves during the 3-2 win. Nababkin misses the game for the Russian side, as the main threat going forward is expected to come from experienced Alan Dzagoev and Vitinho. Having convincingly disposed of AC Milan in the round of 16, Arsenal host the first leg of the quarter-final and will be hoping to all but seal the tie at home. Wenger might want to rotate his squad following the convincing win 3-0 against Stoke over the weekend and the upcoming game against Southampton in the league. January signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can’t play in the game so Alexandre Lacazette will be starting along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan who impressed in previous round games.
Leipzig – Marseille
Led by top performer Timo Werner, the European debutants will be eager to make their mark in Europe as they enter Europa League last 8 for the first time in their history. One of the most famous French sides is up against them filled with confidence after winning against Bilbao in the previous round. The clubs have never met in UEFA competition, although Marseille has faced another team from the same city, defeating Lokomotive Leipzig (then representing East Germany) 1-0 on aggregate (0-0 away, 1-0 home) in the 1987/88 European Cup Winners’ Cup. The German side captain Willy Orban will miss out due to suspension, so the likes of Payet and co. should have some advantages in the game in which Rudi Garcia’s side might exploit the free areas while on a counter-attack.
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