While most fans have been focused on the UEFA Champions League battles, the action in the Europa League is heating up.
Eight teams remain in the prestigious tournament as they all look to end their season with a trophy. Of course, things only get tougher at this point as each squad remaining is extremely talented and will fight hard to advance.
Here is a look at what to expect in each two-legged tie in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. The first leg for each contest will be on April 3 with the second being played on April 10. All contests are set for 3:05 p.m. ET.
|Team 1||Team 2||Predicted Winner|
AZ Alkmaar Have Failed to Score in Three of Their Last Four Matches
The Dutch squad are not in the best form as of late, earning only one win in their past five matches and scoring just two goals in that stretch, both against PEC Zwolle. In the previous Europa League round against Anzhi Makhachkala, AZ Alkmaar were able to advance on just a 1-0 aggregate score.
This is not the type of form you want to see heading into a difficult match against last year's Europa League runner-up Benfica.
Aron Johannsson remains the club's leading scorer with 16 goals on the season, but the American has been cold as well. In the past 10 games, he was scoreless in eight of them with another goal only coming from the penalty spot.
Johannsson discussed the pressure his side will face in the next round with Maisfutebol, via FourFourTwo.com:
It is the biggest game of the season for us and we look forward to it. On a good day they are one of the best teams in the world and have world-class players.
Of course, we're the underdogs.
If AZ Alkmaar have any chance of advancing, they need the attack and specifically Johannsson to step up.
Sevilla Have Won Six of Seven League Matches
Unlike AZ Alkmaar, Sevilla come into their matchup playing extremely well. Despite a recent loss to Celta Vigo, they were almost unstoppable heading into that battle:
6 - Sevilla have won their last six league games; already their best run inside a single top-flight campaign. Takeoff.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 29, 2014
That included a surprising win over Real Madrid to knock them out of first place in La Liga.
Sevilla have moved up to a tie for fifth place in the league table behind three clubs still competing in the Champions League. Additionally, they have performed relatively well on the road with six wins and five draws out of 16 league matches.
On the other hand, FC Porto have been virtually unbeatable at home this year with 10 wins in 12 league matches. However, the defense has been inconsistent in Europa League contests, giving up at least two goals in five of their last six matches.
Sevilla has the advantage at this point and should be able to keep up their momentum in this two-legged battle.
Basel to Play in Empty Stadium
While FC Basel will get a home match against Valencia, it will not have as much of a home-field advantage as they hoped.
The Associated Press (via ESPN FC) reported the reasoning:
UEFA has punished Basel for fan hooliganism by ordering the Swiss club to play its home Europa League quarterfinal against Valencia in an empty stadium.
UEFA says a second stadium-closure order was deferred for a two-year probationary period. Basel fans forced play to be stopped by throwing fireworks on the pitch during its 2-1 victory at Salzburg last Thursday.
The club will now be forced to pay for the terrible behavior of the fans. As a result, this could become somewhat of a neutral match before the action shifts back to Spain for the second leg.
If Valencia can even finish with a draw in the first leg, they should feel good about their chances going forward.
Lyon Struggles with Injuries
The battle between Lyon and Juventus might be the most intriguing of the quarter-finals. The two historic clubs have spent plenty of time in European competitions and are usually among the leaders in their respective leagues.
Unfortunately, a bit of poor luck has slowed down the French club heading into the upcoming match. Many key players like Samuel Umtiti, Milan Bisevac, Mouhamadou Dabo, Gueida Fofana and Clement Grenier missed the previous match and might not be able to compete against Juventus.
Robin Bairner of Goal.com figured this could hurt the squad in this tie:
Juventus have seemingly run away with the Serie A title and they have performed extremely well in all competitions throughout the season. The Italians lost their last match against Napoli, but they won the previous four games, while allowing just one goal in that stretch.
Even without Arturo Vidal, Juventus should be able to limit Lyon's attack and secure an overall victory in this round.
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