Predicting the Europa League Quarterfinals
You'd be forgiven for missing the UEFA Europa League draw—such was the furore over the Champions League version—but here B/R predicts the winner of each "other" quarterfinal.
Former Newcastle and Holland striker Patrick Kluivert drew some pretty interesting ties in Nyon, Switzerland, with two English clubs in particular in for a tough ride.
Read on for the winning predictions.
Chelsea vs. Rubin Kazan
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Players to Watch: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Salomon Rondon (Rubin)
After Chelsea dodged a Romanian bullet in Steaua Bucharest, Rafa Benitez will be confident his side has what it takes to lift the trophy.
The Blues boast a better squad than anyone else left in the tournament, but the one thing that will have been absent from any wish list at Stamford Bridge is a trip to Russia.
Chelsea have played more games this season than anyone else, and the air miles required to go to Kazan and back are ones many seek to avoid.
It won't be a surprise to see the Blues send a (slightly) weakened squad for the away leg, and they'll be heavily favoured to go through regardless.
Rubin are a defence-first side, and their Round of 16 matchup with Levante failed to produce a goal in the first 180 minutes of football. Former Malaga striker Salomon Rondon is a match-winner, so Chelsea will take nothing for granted.
Tottenham vs. Basel
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Players to Watch: Gareth Bale (Tottenham), Yann Sommer (Basel)
Spurs survived the scare of their lives on Thursday night when a scrappy Emmanuel Adebayor goal in extra time saw them qualify at the expense of Internazionale on away goals.
The absence of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon (for the majority of the match) affected the flow of the team, and moving Moussa Dembele out to the right deprived them of his impressive physical presence in the middle.
With Bale back in contention for the quarterfinal, Andre Villas-Boas will be very confident of progressing at the expense of Swiss outfit Basel.
The RotBlau have done exceptionally well to reach this stage, though, and they present a real test. They've comfortably bettered Sporting and Dnipro so far, keeping six clean sheets in Europe in the process.
I've picked out Sommer as the player to watch for Basel, and while they have game-winners and offensive threats, this is a young Swiss goalkeeper with a massive future. Grab a glance.
Fenerbahce vs. Lazio
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Players to Watch: Hernanes (Lazio), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce)
This tie has the makings of an absolute cracker, despite the fact that it's likely to end up with the least viewings.
Lazio are a free-scoring machine in Europe despite resting Miroslav Klose for all but one game, while Fenerbahce bring a host of former English Premier League stars still going strong to the table.
In particular, this will be the first chance for many to catch a glimpse of Kuyt since he departed Liverpool, while big things were once expected of Moussa Sow too.
For Lazio, Libor Kozak is doing a fine job in Klose's place, having scored eight goals in this year's competition. Joseph Yobo and company will be balking at the prospect of facing him.
Keep your eyes on Hernanes in the Italian side's midfield—he's the epitome of the box-to-box specimen.
Benfica vs. Newcastle
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Players to Watch: Nemanja Matic (Benfica), Papiss Cisse (Newcastle)
While Newcastle likely wanted to avoid both English and Russian opposition in the Europa League quarterfinals, it doesn't get much worse than Benfica.
The Eagles have been on fire this season, decimating all in their path in this competition while keeping it neck-and-neck with FC Porto in the Liga Sagres.
They're my pick to win the competition, and they have so many offensive pieces it's scary: Ola John has found form, Nemanja Matic is formidable as an anchor, and Oscar Cardozo remains a superb goal-scoring threat from any angle.
That said, Newcastle have found themselves recently too.
Papiss Cisse has ended his drought and looks a great player once more, while Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa has stepped into the role Fabricio Coloccini left admirably.
It takes a lot to overcome the threat of Anzhi Makhachkala, but Newcastle did it over 180 minutes and should feel confident in beating anyone right now.