UEFA Europa League: what to watch out for in the quarter-final first leg | UEFA Europa League
A fearless Frankfurt host Barcelona, Rangers don’t go to Braga ‘for a day’ and an unbeaten Lyon side travel to West Ham with a point to prove.
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Atalanta evaluate next German test
Having already knocked out third-placed Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, Germany’s fourth top-flight side are Atalanta’s next challenge. Leipzig are playing their second quarter-final in three attempts in the Europa League – their first coming in 2017/18 – while La Dea last reached this stage in the 1990/91 UEFA Cup. Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco is ‘personally very happy’ to have brought the Italian team on board, saying he admires their transition from a ‘yo-yo club’ to a ‘well organized team’ but ‘fears their physique.
However, he knows his Leipzig side have their own ‘unique qualities’ and, crucially, Tedesco have Christopher Nkunku at their disposal. The 24-year-old closes on 30 goals in all competitions this season, having netted seven in the UEFA Champions League, and the in-form attacking midfielder won his first senior call-up in France ahead of the quarter-finals.
Daring Rangers take on Braga’s Young Wolves
Ryan Kent was the hero the last time these sides met in 2019/20, scoring in their decisive round of 16 to sink the Portuguese side at the Estádio Municipal de Braga. On the scoresheet again as the Glasgow side sent Crvena zvezda through to the round of 16 this season, the winger vowed the Light Blues won’t be ‘just here for a day’ as they target the semi-finals.
Both camps are now under new leadership. Giovanni van Bronckhorst makes his quarter-final debut as manager in Europe, while Carlos Carvalhal aims to guide his young side beyond their last 32 goals from the previous two seasons. “If you don’t have a dog, you hunt with a cat,” the Braga coach says, explaining, “We’re bleeding 13 boys from the academy and we’re still very, very positive.”
On the losing side in 2019/20, Braga striker Abel Ruiz intends to ‘make history’ when the two teams meet. However, after avoiding West Ham in the semi-final draw, Van Bronckhorst’s men will surely only have half an eye on a potential all-British final in Sevilla.
West Ham can’t stop dreaming
West Ham skipper Mark Noble, who has announced his 18th season with the club will be his last, hailed the “phenomenal” noise inside the London stadium during the previous round. The Hammers overturned a first-leg defeat to face Europa League specialists Sevilla on an unforgettable night in east London to reach the quarter-finals.
Peter Bosz’s Lyon edged Porto to progress but the coach found Lyon’s inconsistent form ‘difficult to explain’. They are currently mid-table in Ligue 1, although they still have “great ambitions” in Europe, where they remain undefeated.
Meanwhile, West Ham are targeting European places in England, and full-back Ben Johnson believes the Irons ‘can lock horns’ with top teams and go all the way in the Europa League. David Moyes’ team will face an OL determined to save their season, but with a historic comeback in the round of 16 and full of confidence, Pablo Fornals is thinking big: “We are still dreaming […] so why stop?
Frankfurt optimistic against well-oiled Barcelona
Kevin Trapp expects the Frankfurt stadium to be “full of fans” and an “incredible atmosphere” when 1979/80 UEFA Cup winners Frankfurt host Barcelona for the first leg. The teams have never met in a competitive game, but Barca won 2-0 in their last friendly, in 1976.
To reach the quarter-finals, the German team overtook Betis and “to put it bluntly, if you manage against the fifth-placed team in Spain, you can also do it against the third”, assumed the coach of Frankfurt, Oliver. Glaser. However, Eintracht will face fierce competition in Xavi Hernández’s settled side, who have recently achieved a string of impressive results.
Barca’s biggest threat will come in the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has been hitting the target regularly since joining this winter, and if the Gabonese striker needs some extra motivation to find the net against Eintracht, he is now just seven goals away. breaking Radamel Falcao’s competition all-time top scorer record of 30.
April 14: Quarter-final second leg
April 28 & May 5: semi-finals
May 18: Final (Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Seville)