There are no English teams remaining in the Champions League, but those looking for the stars from the world’s most popular league will find them in the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals.
Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle have joined Rubin Kazan, Basel, Fenerbahce, Lazio and Benfica in the group of final eight teams.
None of the Premier League club will face each other in this round, but the road through to the semifinals is still paved with difficult challenges.
Here are my predictions for each quarterfinal matchup.
Chelsea vs. Rubin Kazan
The Blues have the most talented roster of any team in the competition, but this will not be an easy matchup for Rafa Benitez’s team.
The character of the Chelsea squad has been called into question this season due to inconsistent performances, and the prospect of having to play an away tie in Kazan, which is 500 miles east of Moscow, should keep Benitez up at night.
The Londoners may luck out as Martyn Ziegler of the Press Association (via the Daily Mail) notes that the Russian club’s pitch could be unfit to host a match, as it was in the previous round.
If the match is played in Kazan, a Chelsea side that struggles to perform match in and match out will have to deal with an unusually large travel burned. This offers the perfect setup for the club to flame out of Europe.
Prediction: Rubin Kazan 3, Chelsea 3 on aggregate, Rubin advances on away goals
Tottenham vs. Basel
Both these sides advanced to the quarterfinals despite losing the second leg of their previous matches.
Tottenham’s defeat, however, was far more spectacular. Spurs held a 3-0 lead after the first leg, but Inter Milan went up 3-0 at the end of regulation in Thursday’s match, and Emmanuel Adebayor’s away goal in overtime allowed Andre Villas-Boas’ side to squeak through, despite a 4-1 defeat.
Basel took a 2-0 lead over Zenit St. Petersburg in the first leg before losing 1-0 in the next match.
While the Swiss side seems to be the more stable team, Gareth Bale’s absence was a huge influence on Spurs’ poor performance. With the Welshman back in the lineup, Tottenham will get through to the semifinal.
Prediction: Tottenham 4, Basel 2 on aggregate
Fenerbahce vs. Lazio
Lazio is the only team that participated in the group stage of this tournament and has not lost a match.
The Italian side is coming off an extremely impressive set of showings against Stuttgart in which it advanced 5-1 on aggregate. There is no doubt that Lazio has the momentum in this matchup.
Fenerbahce’s performance in the previous round was not as impressive, and the Turkish club eliminated Viktoria Pizen with a 1-0 victory and a 1-1 draw.
Lazio’s confidence will continue in the quarterfinals and it will have few problems getting through to the semis.
Prediction: Lazio 3, Fenerbahce 0 on aggregate
Benfica vs. Newcastle
Which EPL team has the best chance to win the competition?
Benfica did not fare well in the Champions League, but since being dropped in the Europa league, the team has won all four of its matches.
The Portuguese side is in good form and is well versed in European competition. The club’s last match was a 3-2 victory over Bordeaux in which veteran striker Oscar Cardozo scored twice.
With Benfica’s best goal-scorer now surging with confidence, Newcastle has a difficult task ahead of it.
While Papiss Cisse’s late winner against Anzhi Makhachkala will gives the club some momentum, it has ultimately produced just two goals in its last five Europa League fixtures. The English side will not be able generate enough offense to get through to the next round.
Prediction: Benfica 3, Newcastle 1 on aggregate