Europa League 2021: Power-Ranking Every Team in the Quarterfinals

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2021

Europa League 2021: Power-Ranking Every Team in the Quarterfinals

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    Associated Press

    Eight teams remain on a mission to reach the UEFA Europa League final as the competition heads to the quarterfinal stage.

    The English Premier League and La Liga have controlled the UEFA Europa League since 2012, and those leagues are represented by four of the eight quarterfinalists: Manchester United, Arsenal, Villarreal and Granada.

    Of the quartet, only United has won the Europa League since the competition's rebranding in 2009.

    Arsenal is two years removed from a Europa League final berth, and the manager who led the Gunners to that position, Unai Emery, is in charge of Villarreal and has previously won the tournament three times with Sevilla.

    Italy, Croatia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are the four other nations represented in the quarterfinals.

    Ajax and Roma made strong cases to challenge Manchester United for its favorite status to win the tournament with their respective showings in the round of 16.

    Dinamo Zagreb produced the more stunning win than Slavia Prague. Zagreb shut out Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg and won in extra time.

    However, Slavia Prague deserves credit as well for slowing down a red-hot Rangers squad to eliminate the Scottish Premiership champion.

    The quest for the trophy will resume April 8 with the first leg of the quarterfinals, and the second legs will take place one week later.


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8. Slavia Prague

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Unfortunately, one of these eight teams has to be last.

    Slavia Prague rode its defense into the final eight by first silencing Leicester City in the round of 32 and then holding Rangers to one goal in the round of 16.

    While the performance over 180 minutes is commendable, it was not unique to the round-of-16 winners.

    Slavia Prague was one of five teams to have held their opponents to a single goal over two matches.

    The defense of the Czech side has played well, but its offense may need to step it up in the coming rounds to compete with the likes of Manchester United and Ajax.

    The lone knock on Slavia Prague's knockout-round play is that it has scored five total goals and found the back of the net just once in a pair of home contests. It is commendable that four of those tallies came on the road, since away goals count double in the two-legged ties, but scoring in both legs could be the difference between advancement and elimination. 

    In comparison, Roma and Ajax combined for 19 goals in the past two rounds, and Manchester United scored four in its first round-of-32 clash with Real Sociedad.

7. Dinamo Zagreb

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    Darko Bandic/Associated Press

    Dinamo Zagreb deserves a nod over Slavia Prague because of the opponent it knocked out.

    Sure, Rangers appeared to be unbeatable, but it ran roughshod through a much weaker league than the one Spurs got hot in over the past few weeks, and the Scottish side struggled with its defending in the round of 32. 

    Tottenham entered Thursday with five wins in its past six games across all competitions, and it had outscored opponents 16-3 in those victories. The only loss in that span was to Arsenal in league play.

    The Croatian side also gained an edge over Slavia Prague because of the manner in which it shut down Tottenham in the second leg to win 3-2 on aggregate in extra time.

    Zagreb reversed a 2-0 road defeat and did not allow a previously red-hot attack, led by Harry Kane, to secure any away goals that would have put Jose Mourinho's side into the final eight.

    In five home games in the Europa League, Zagreb has recorded a clean sheet in four games. If that form translates into the following round, it could be a dark-horse selection to win.

6. Granada

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    Laszlo Balogh/Associated Press

    It is hard to say that a team from the most dominant country in the Europa League over the past decade is a true dark horse to hoist the trophy, but that is what Granada is.

    The Spanish side is on a run through a continental competition it has never experienced before.

    The Europa League success comes as more of a surprise since Granada is eighth in the La Liga table and has three victories over its past seven matches in all competitions.

    Granada may not be taken as seriously because it lost second legs to both Napoli and Molde, which was an unlikely round-of-16 participant.

    The La Liga outfit has a path to the final since it was stingy defensively in the first legs against Napoli and Molde. That allowed it to absorb the two goals scored by its opponents in the second legs.

    If Granada cleans up its second-leg defending, it could make an even stronger case to be a contender in the tournament.

5. Arsenal

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Arsenal does not like to make things easy on itself, but at least it's consistent in that department.

    The Gunners eked out a 3-2 win on aggregate against Olympiacos after the Greek team gave them a scare to go 1-0 up in the second leg.

    The failure to score at home followed up the last-minute victory over Benfica just to reach the round of 16.

    But all that matters right now is Arsenal is still fighting for a trophy in a season where it likely will have to win the Europa League to get back into the UEFA Champions League.

    Arsenal needs to be more consistent over 180 minutes, especially if it lands one of the competition's bigger names in the final eight, if it wants to win the trophy.

    One thing the Gunners can be pleased about is they are still alive in Europe and archrival Tottenham crashed out.

4. Villarreal

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    Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

    Villarreal looked like it did not break a sweat over two legs against Dynamo Kyiv.

    Unai Emery's men produced consecutive 2-0 wins against the Ukrainians and squeezed in a 3-1 league victory over Eibar between those contests.

    The Yellow Submarine have turned in three clean sheets in four knockout-round games and scored multiple goals in all of those contests.

    That form, combined with Emery's history in the competition (three wins with Sevilla and one final appearance with Arsenal), make them the best candidate to extend the Spanish reign on top of the competition.

    Since 2012, teams from Spain have won the Europa League six times, including Emery's run with Sevilla from 2014-16.

3. Roma

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    Marco Vasini/Associated Press

    Roma is Serie A's only remaining hope for success in Europe this season.

    While Juventus and AC Milan were busy crashing out of Europe, Roma took care of business against Shakhtar Donetsk.

    The capital city club blitzed through the Ukrainian side 5-1 on aggregate. The first leg against Shakhtar was Roma's third multigoal win in the knockout phase.

    Roma has four wins in its past five games across all competitions and has two losses in 10 matches dating back to February 14.

    If Roma reaches the final, it would have a chance to become Italy's first UEFA Cup/Europa League winner since Parma in 1998, an achievement Inter Milan could not earn last season when it lost 3-2 in the final to Sevilla.

2. Ajax

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    Peter Dejong/Associated Press

    Ajax could be on a collision course with Manchester United to get revenge for the 2017 Europa League final in the semifinals.

    The Eredivisie side ended the Cinderella story of Young Boys by storming through the Swiss outfit with five goals over two legs.

    The Dutch giants looked fantastic in both legs versus a side that appeared to be ready to knock off another big club following a round-of-32 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen.

    Since January 14, Ajax has allowed more than one goal on a single occasion over 17 matches in all competitions.

    During that stretch, the Eredivisie leader has won 10 games by multiple goals. If it keeps firing at the same pace, it could turn away even the toughest opponents.

1. Manchester United

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    Paul Pogba rescued Manchester United from the jaws of elimination on Thursday.

    Although the Red Devils did not look as dominant against AC Milan as they did versus Real Sociedad, they still came away with a spot in the next round.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side has faced the toughest draws of any team left in the field. Its draw in the UEFA Champions League group stage was brutal as well, with the Red Devils going up against Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig.

    The results against its two Europa League knockout-round foes are part of a 14-game unbeaten streak.

    Additionally, United is the highest-placed side (second in the Premier League) in any of the top five European leagues left in the field. Arsenal is 10th in the EPL, Roma is sixth in Serie A and Villarreal and Granada are seventh and eighth, respectively, in La Liga.

    United proved it could win two-legged ties in different manners by blowing out Real Sociedad in the round-of-32 first leg and earning a second-half away goal to down Milan.

    In its past four Europa League games, United has conceded a single goal, and if that defensive form continues during the final three stages, it could walk away with the trophy for the second time in four years.


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