Inter, Sevilla, Arsenal eye wins to seal Europa quarter-final berths
After some mind-boggling UEFA Champions League action, the limelight now shifts to the Europa League for its second-leg schedule of the last-16 stage. Considering their first-leg results, most of Europe’s best seem to be on course for the quarter-finals of the competition.
Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea are in the driving seat in their last 16 tie with Dynamo Kyiv. They travel to Ukraine for their second leg clash with a healthy 3-0 advantage from the first leg. With momentum on their side and a Premier League fixture at Everton in three days, Sarri might opt to rest key players and rotate his squad, with the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi expected to start. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, have a daunting task at hand to slow down Chelsea’s attacking prowess, but given they themselves have scored in almost every home game this season, Bilo-Syn could ring a surprise against the Blues.
Italian giants Napoli visit the Red Bull Arena for their second leg clash against Salzburg. After stalemates in their respective league games over the weekend, it’s Carlo Ancelotti who has more to worry about as they head into the encounter without suspended defenders Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic. Salzburg, last season’s semi-finalists, are unbeaten at home this season and will bank on their home support to pull off an extraordinary comeback against the Partonopei.
Inter Milan entertain Eintracht Frankfurt at the San Siro on Thursday, with the tie evenly poised from the first leg. Die Adler will start as favourites in the fixture since they are unbeaten in 11 straight games across all competitions since December. The Nerazzurri, in contrast, are having an indifferent season but come into the contest on the back of a much-needed 2-0 league win over SPAL. With up to five first-team players on the injury list, and Lautaro Martinez and Kwadwo Asamoah serving suspensions, Inter boss Luciano Spalletti faces a selection crisis in a fixture that has a direct impact on their Champions League qualification hopes for next season.
Five-time Europa League winners Sevilla square off against Czech side Slavia Prague, looking to exact revenge for the surprise 2-2 draw at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan a week ago. Pablo Machin’s men hit top form over the weekend, with Wassim Ben Yedder netting a 13-minute hat-trick in the 5-2 thrashing of Real Sociedad. Given their record in the competition, Los Hispalenses will bank on the in-form Frenchman to lead the Spanish side into the quarter-finals. Slavia, in turn, have scored 61 goals in 24 domestic matches this season, and can cause Sevilla problems, just as they did in the first leg.
Lastly and perhaps the most entertaining clash of the lot will feature Arsenal going up against Rennes at the Emirates Stadium. Starting with a 3-1 deficit from the first leg, the Gunners will need to overcome adversity and they will back themselves to do that at the Emirates given their strong form at home this season. With Alexandre Lacazette eligible to play, Unai Emery is confident his team can seal a place in the next stage. Rennes, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last five games and will look to frustrate the hosts in their own yard. French winger Hatem Ben Arfa played a pivotal role in the first leg victory and the French side will once again rely on him to put on an inspirational performance on his return to England.
Words: William Paul