Europa League 2021: Preview and Predictions for the Quarterfinals

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

Europa League 2021: Preview and Predictions for the Quarterfinals

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    Photo credit: Enterprise

    The UEFA Europa League is down to eight teams still on a mission to reach the final.

    The list of quarterfinalists features a few regular contenders on the European stage but also a handful of surprise teams that have knocked out some of the competition's biggest names to qualify for this round.

    Of course, everyone's attention will go straight to Manchester United and Arsenal still being alive in the hunt for continental glory and potentially on a collision course to meet in the final.

    The Red Devils and Gunners both face off against darlings of the competition: Granada and Slavia Prague.

    Not all of the top contenders on the road to Gdansk, Poland, have lopsided matchups on paper.

    Ajax and Roma will face off in the round's marquee two-legged affair. The Dutch and Italian powers poured in the goals through the first two knockout rounds and could put on an attacking show over 180 minutes.

    Dinamo Zagreb and Villarreal will not get top billing, but there is an intriguing storyline developing out of that matchup, with Unai Emery four games away from leading another club to the Europa League final.


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Ajax vs. Roma

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    Peter Dejong/Associated Press

    First Leg: April 8, 3 p.m. ET at Ajax

    Second Leg: April 15, 3 p.m. ET at Roma

    The two most dominant clubs in the knockout round were drawn against each other in the final eight. We were bound to have one star-studded showdown, and we got that in the Ajax-Roma tie.

    Ajax has been an unstoppable force domestically and continentally since the calendar flipped to 2021. The Eredivisie leader has not lost since its UEFA Champions League group-stage game against Atalanta on Dec. 9.

    Since 2021 began, Ajax has dropped points on two occasions in draws with PSV Eindhoven. It has beaten everyone else on its schedule, including Lille and Young Boys in the rounds of 32 and 16, respectively.

    In those four knockout games, Ajax conceded twice, one in each round-of-32 match with Lille.

    Roma has an equally as impressive defensive record from its clashes with Braga and Shakhtar Donetsk, who managed to score one goal each. The Giallorossi back line has looked weaker in Serie A action, as Napoli, Sassuolo and Parma all put up two goals in their past three league games.

    If the Roma defense from the knockout phase shows up against Ajax, we could witness a tight affair that is decided by one or two goals. However, there are enough questions to be asked about the Italian side that give Ajax the slight edge based on defensive form.

    Ajax allowed a single goal in its past five games across all competitions, and it has found the back of the net on multiple occasions in its previous six matches.

    Prediction: Ajax

Arsenal vs. Slavia Prague

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    Adam Davy/Associated Press

    First Leg: April 8, 3 p.m. ET at Arsenal

    Second Leg: April 15 , 3 p.m. ET at Slavia Prague

    Arsenal faces more pressure to advance out of the final eight because it is a much bigger club than Slavia Prague.

    But getting past the Czech side will not be easy, especially with a banged-up defense. Kieran Tierney and David Luiz will be unavailable for the Gunners.

    Mikel Arteta's men have not recorded a clean sheet since their scoreless draw with Manchester United on Jan. 30, and they let up three goals each to West Ham United and Liverpool in their past two league games.

    Conversely, Slavia Prague's defense hasn't conceded a goal over its past four games across all competitions. It secured progression to the last eight with a 2-0 win over Rangers in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie.

    Arsenal's attack will pose the toughest test yet for the Czech defense. The Gunners have had 15 players record at least a goal through their Europa League run.

    With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in tow and Emile Smith Rowe returning to fitness, the Gunners have enough firepower to give the Slavia defense the toughest test it has faced in the Europa League. Arsenal scored seven goals in the knockout round, and it has netted three or more goals in seven Europa League contests this term.

    Slavia Prague's defense conceded once to Rangers and Leicester City, but Arsenal's high-scoring unit may be too much for it to handle, as it has for the Gunners' previous two knockout foes, over 180 minutes.

    Prediction: Arsenal

Manchester United vs. Granada

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    Naomi Baker/Associated Press

    First Leg: April 8, 3 p.m. ET at Granada

    Second Leg: April 15, 3 p.m. ET at Manchester United

    Established European powerhouse versus club on the rise.

    In some ways, Manchester United vs. Granada is the perfect matchup for the David-versus-Goliath narrative.

    The Red Devils are expected to contend for European trophies every season. Granada, on the other hand, is competing in its first continental competition in club history and is hoping to continue its unlikely run.

    Granada is well suited to playing the underdog role since it knocked out Napoli in the round of 32. Conversely, it thrived as the favorite against Molde in the round of 16.

    The Spanish side is viewed as a significant underdog because of its position in the European hierarchy and its league form. It has lost three of its past four La Liga contests.

    Manchester United gathered points from all of its past 10 Premier League contests and has won three of its past four league games. The Red Devils' only loss since Jan. 30 came in the FA Cup against Leicester City.

    Both teams will be shorthanded in attack, with Anthony Martial and possibly Marcus Rashford not available for selection for United and Luis Suarez out for Granada.

    The injuries could drop the potential for goals across 180 minutes, but there are still some dynamic options, like Edinson Cavani and Roberto Soldado, who should be on the pitch.

    If United can overcome Martial's absence and the potential limited impact of Rashford in attack, it should hold on defensively to limit Granada's chances.

    United's defense allowed a single goal in four knockout-round matches against Real Sociedad and AC Milan.

    Prediction: Manchester United

Dinamo Zagreb vs. Villarreal

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    Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

    First Leg: April 8, 3 p.m. ET at Dinamo Zagreb

    Second Leg: April 15, 3 p.m. ET at Villarreal

    Water is wet, the sky is blue and Unai Emery is leading a team on a deep Europa League run.

    The three-time winner of the competition with Sevilla and finalist with Arsenal has Villarreal on the verge of a semifinal berth.

    The Yellow Submarine is enjoying one of its best runs of form all season with five straight wins in all competitions, a stretch that started with a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv to kick off the round of 16.

    During that run, Villarreal scored multiple goals in each contest, which may be the most significant stat going into the quarterfinal clash with Dinamo Zagreb.

    The Croatian side conceded twice against Krasnodar and Tottenham Hotspur to open up the round of 32 and 16, respectively. Dinamo tightened up its defense to record a clean sheet in the two second legs.

    Villarreal owns a trio of 2-0 victories and a 2-1 triumph in knockout-round play, and if it can capitalize on Zagreb's average first-leg defensive form, it may have the advantage it needs to finish off the series next Thursday.

    Prediction: Villarreal