UEFA Europa League quarterfinals: fallen giants meet dark horses
The draw for the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals, last Friday, produced some very interesting matchups. Arsenal will play Champions League dropout Napoli, Villareal will meet Valencia, Benfica will face high flying Eintracht Frankfurt, and surprising Slavia Praha will take on fallen giants Chelsea.
Historically speaken, this fixture belongs in the Champions League. The fact of the matter is, however, that Arsenal have had a hard time obtaining a Champions League spot via the Premier League the last couple of years, and Napoli wasn’t able to beat PSG and Liverpool for a spot in the second round of the Champions League. By beating respectively Rennes and Red Bull Salzburg (both with an aggregate of 4-3) The Gunners and Gli Azzurri, managed to reach the quarterfinals of the Europa League.
It’s hard to say which of these teams is going to have the upper hand in the opcoming clash. The last time Arsenal and Napoli met, was in 2013, in the Champions League. A lot of things have changed since then. And even though Napoli is currently second placed in the Serie A (fifteen points behind Juventus), they don’t have any more chance to win the title than fourth placed Arsenal in England (sixteen points behind Liverpool).
All in all, it will be a close matchup, but we think that Arsenal will have the odds in their favourite. They seem to have found their form in the last matches against Manchester United (2-0 victory) and Rennes (3-0), especially up front. Napoli, on the other hand, are looking less impressive with every match, particularly in defence. After the narrow escape in Salzburg, where they lost 3-1 and almost gave up their spot in the quarterfinals, they had to concede two goals in the game against Udinese (4-2 win). We believe that the current form of both teams will be decisive, and that therefore Arsenal will go through to the semis.
The next fixture is the all Spanish encounter between Villareal and Valencia. Villareal are having a rough season, in which they even have to fight against relegation. The gap between them (17th) and the relegation zone is only four points at the moment. Valencia’s year, on the other hand, have been okay. Not great, but just okay. They are currently placed seventh in LaLiga, with four points behind number six Sevilla.
We believe that this is match will provide no shocks. Considering the fact that Valencia have won the last encounter between them last January (3-0, the first game in Villareal ended 0-0) and the fact that Los Che are without a defeat since losing to Getafe for the Copa del Rey in January, we think that they are simply to good at the moment for El Submarino Amarillo.
This is a fixture which seems easy to predict, but the closer you look at it, the less certain you get. Benfica is an often seen name in the Champions League, even in the latter stages of the tournament, whereas Eintracht Frankfurt haven’t even played that much European football in the past years. However, SGE is currently placed fifth in the Bundesliga, and is only one point short of the Champions League spots. By eliminating Internazionale, they showed whole Europe what they are capable of.
Benfica are still in the running to win the Portuguese Primeira Liga. Currently, they are tied for first place with FC Porto, but their goal difference gives O Glorioso the lead at the moment. After ending third in group E of the Champions League (behind Bayern Munich and Ajax), Benfica needed 120 minutes at home to finally deal with Dinamo Zagreb.
We believe that, because of the impressive form Eintracht Frankfurt have shown, and the fact that Benfica are struggling in their current European campagin and are in a intense battle to win the Portuguan league, the Germans will be able to shake off Benfica and proceed to the semifinals. We even think that Adi Hütter’s talented squad could even be a contender for the cup. Also the fact that Frankfurt haven’t lost a match since December, when Bayern Munich beat them, and the impressive way that they sent Shakthar Donetsk and Inter out of the Europa League, give us reason to believe in the chances of Frankfurt.
Slavia Praha are having an all around fantastic season. They are currently nine points clear of second placed Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Liga, and their current Europa League campaign is surprising Europe. After ending in front of Bordeaux and FC Kobenhavn, and behind Zenit, in Group C, they respectively defeated Genk and Sevilla in the latter stages. Especially the win against Sevilla, yielded admiration throughout Europe.
Chelsea, on the other hand, can’t wait to be done with this season. Mauricio Sarri’s squad is placed sixth in the Premier League (nineteen points behind Liverpool), and, after getting eliminated early in the FA Cup and League Cup, the Europa League is their only shot to make something out of this horrible year. The question is, however, are they able to do so?
We believe the Blues are at least able to beat Slavia, in particular if you look at their results in the Europa League. Except from the group match at Vidi (which ended 2-2), they’ve won every single game. In the matches against Dinamo Kyiv they even showed a great power display, by winning 8-0 on aggregate. Although Slavia will not give up without a fight, we belive that Chelsea will quite easily proceed to the semifinals. And if they will be able to shake off Eintracht Frankfurt or Benfica in the semis, they maybe will be able to give their season a thin siver lining by beating fellow Londeners Arsenal for the title.