Europa League: Predicting the Round of 16 Winners from Every Two-Legged Tie
As the fixtures pile up, 16 teams still involved in the UEFA Europa League will be gearing up for vital clashes on Thursday afternoon.
Tottenham face Internazionale, Lazio engage Stuttgart and Benfica take on Bordeaux, but who will prevail over the course of two legs?
Read on for my predictions and enjoy the slideshow!
Anzhi Makhachkala vs. Newcastle United
A trip to Russia will have been the last thing on Alan Pardew's wishlist during the draw, and much like Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa in 2009, there's every chance the Newcastle United gaffer throws this one.
The Magpies—like it or not—have an English Premier League relegation battle on their hands and resources would be best used there, but without injuries this squad is still deep.
Still, the likes of Lacina Traore and Samuel Eto'o will widely be expected to prevail here.
Stuttgart vs. Lazio
Both Lazio and Stuttgart overcame stern tests in the Round of 32 matchups, beating Borussia Moenchengladbach and Genk respectively.
Both sides are a little off colour in the league with regard to form, but the Biancocelesti's lofty position in the Serie A may see Vladimir Petkovic rest a few key players.
You can expect goals in this one, and Stuttgart will be all in for this, but Lazio have enough about them to expose Stuttgart's frailties.
Viktoria Plzen vs. Fenerbahce
Viktoria Plzen are the surprise package of the tournament so far, conquering Atletico Madrid in the Group Stage then knocking Napoli out in the Round of 32.
What's to stop them reaching the quarterfinals considering the run they're on? They're top of the Gambrinus Liga and look a confident outfit, while Fenerbahce recently fell to Besiktas and lost ground in the title race.
Sari Kanaryalar have a stronger squad on paper, but I'm tipping momentum to continue in favour the Czech outfit here.
Winner: Viktoria Plzen
Steaua Bucuresti vs. Chelsea
Given the state Chelsea are in, the fact that Steaua Bucuresti matched Ajax's strongest team and then beat them on penalties will worry the fans.
Why? Because it's the same Ajax team—with the astute addition of Isaac Cuenca—that more than matched Manchester City and took Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund all the way in the UEFA Champions League.
You never know what to expect from a Chelsea side under Rafa Benitez, and this looks like a bit of a banana skin.
Benfica vs. Bordeaux
Benfica will feel hard done by after being dumped out of the UEFA Champions League, but responded in style with delightful attacking displays against Bayer Leverkusen.
The German contenders were one of the strongest sides left in the competition, and Jorge Jesus will feel confident in overcoming Bordeaux.
Les Girondins have their own weapons in Ludovic Obraniak and Benoit Tremoulinas, and will fancy themselves, but the Portuguese outfit should progress.
A regular reader of ours is Jon Mancini, and he has astutely pointed out on a number of occasions that Nemanja Matic is the player to watch.
Tottenham vs. Internazionale
Andre Villas-Boas has already proved to us he's going all out in this competition, and Gareth Bale in particular will have fond memories of facing Internazionale.
The game embodies a slight fall from grace for each side, as the last time these two met it was a UEFA Champions League blockbuster.
Internazionale have proved a little frail in recent weeks when failing to get themselves into the game early, and the sight of Bale—in renewed, improved form—will terrify the players who were present for the Italian side in 2010.
Levante vs. Rubin Kazan
Levante blitzed Olympiakos 4-0 on aggregate in the last round, while Rubin Kazan knocked out the holders in Atletico Madrid.
Diego Simeone even turned to Radamel Falcao for the first time in the competition, but los Colchoneros could not overcome the 2-0 home deficit from the first leg.
Levante's early-season form has disappeared and the club is struggling to balance the two competitions, but the Spanish fairy tale could well continue for another few weeks here.
Basel vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Basel may have had an easy ride in the group stages, but the beating of Dnipro should not be scoffed at—they're a strong Ukrainian side that cause Shakhtar Donetsk plenty of problems in the Premier Liga.
That said, Zenit Saint Petersburg look too strong on paper to mess this one up, and have shown an ability to hold their never in front of a raucous Anfield crowd.
Does anyone else have a sneeky feeling Zenit could even go all the way?
Winner: Zenit Saint Petersburg