With four of the remaining eight teams in the Europa League entering the competition through the Champions League trap door, the quarter-final draw was bound to throw up a battle or two of heavyweights.
The tie of the round sees Lyon take on the tournament favourites Juventus for the first time competitively, with a final date in Turin, at Juventus’ ground, the ultimate quest for both sides.
Lyon have recorded just one loss in this season’s Europa League after battling through Group I and disposing of Viktoria Plzen in the round of 16, while Juventus eliminated fellow Serie A side Fiorentina in the same round after crashing out of the Champions League.
Below we look at the key facts heading into Thursday’s first leg in France, where Antonio Conte’s side are looking to take their first steps on the road to winning a European trophy for the first time since 1996.
Venue: Stade de Gerland
Date: Thursday, 3 April
Time: 8:05 p.m. BST/3:05 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV 4
Live Stream: ITV 4 website
The tournament favourites come into this quarter-final first leg off the back of only their second league defeat of the season, away at Napoli at the weekend, as FOX Soccer reported via Twitter:
Napoli dealt Serie A rivals Juventus their second defeat of the season with a 2-0 victory at Stadio San Paolo. http://t.co/iksljurG9S— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 30, 2014
Conte’s men have been running away with Serie A this season but stuttered against Rafa Benitez’s Napoli in Naples. The 44-year-old manager blamed his players’ fatigue for the loss during an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, as FOX Sports reported:
We were off colour. We are playing so many games right now and always with the same players due to injuries. Most of my players are tired as they haven't had a chance to rest.
They won’t be getting their chance anytime soon, with their crucial visit to the out-of-sorts Lyon top of their list of priorities this week.
The French side have lost three of their last four matches in all competitions but may also be feeling the effects of a long season, having played 51 matches already in the current campaign, as OptaJean revealed on Twitter:
51 - Lyon have played 51 competitive games this season, six more than any other Ligue 1 side (PSG 45). Marathon.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 31, 2014
Despite this, now has never been a better time for Lyon to beat Juventus, as their 22-game unbeaten league stretch coming to an end will have shattered confidence in the camp.
According to ESPN FC, Juventus’ first domestic loss of the season resulted in failure in Europe in the following match, with Real Madrid beating the Old Lady after Fiorentina had taken them down domestically.
How Lyon will be hoping for a repeat on Thursday evening.
The Return Of Carlos Tevez
While Conte blamed tiredness for Juventus’ loss in Naples, the absence of striker Carlos Tevez was detrimental to the Serie A champions’ cause.
As Serie A News revealed on Twitter, Tevez is the league’s top marksman with 18 goals for the season:
Carlos Tevez leads Serie A now with 18 goals— Serie A News (@TransfersCalcio) March 26, 2014
The former Manchester United and Manchester City forward has been irresistible in front of goal this season, and when Dani Osvaldo took the reins against Napoli following Tevez's suspension, Juventus didn’t look the same threat going forward.
Meanwhile, Lyon manager Remi Garde will turn to the prolific partnership of Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis to fire the seven-time Ligue 1 champions to a famous victory.
The pair have scored 25 goals between them so far this season according to the official Ligue 1 website, and they combined effectively in the club’s recent loss to Saint Etienne to equalise in the first half.
If Gomis and Lacazette can perfectly tune in their telepathy on Thursday, then Juventus may struggle. But with the class that the Serie A leaders have all over the pitch, you’d expect a routine victory—and possibly a routine competition victory—for the Italians.