2018 UEFA Europa League: Analysing the quarter-finals draw
The 2018 UEFA Europa League quarterfinals are here. Only eight teams remain. The draw was held Friday in Nyon. Here's a look at each matchup.
Arsenal vs CSKA Moscow
Arsenal had the toughest assignment in the round of 16, drawing an in-form AC Milan. The Gunners made it look easy. They swept the tie with a 2-0 win at San Siro followed by a 3-1 flight at the Emirates. While it may be too late domestically, Arsene Wenger has his side rounding into form at the right time in Europe. They are a top candidate to claim the Champions League wild-card ticket.
CSKA are no pushover. Their fighting spirit was evident in the tie against Olympique Lyon. Despite losing 0-1 in the first leg, the Russian outfit enjoyed a season's best performance with a 3-2 victory at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais to force their way through. Arsenal is an entirely different animal than Lyon, even with Alexandre Lacazette. That said, CSKA have proven they can mix it with anyone when at their best.
Atletico Madrid vs Sporting Lisbon
Like Arsenal, perhaps more so, Atletico are bonafide Europa League contenders. Don't be shocked if they're in the final come May.
Diego Simeone’s men obliterated Lokomotiv Moscow with an 8-1 aggregate score. Winning 3-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano gave the Rojiblancos the opportunity to relax in the second leg. They declined, derailing Lokomotiv 5-1 in Russia. Los Colchoneros are in top form. Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa, and Koke are leading the way.
Sporting reached the quarterfinals but had far more problems than anticipated. The Lions won the first leg against Viktoria Plzen at home 2-0 but lost the second by the same score. They missed a penalty in stoppage time and needed Rodrigo Battaglia's extra-time header to avoid the penalty lottery. The Portuguese side's many deficiencies were exposed, especially on defence. Atletico will make them pay a steep price should Jorge Jesus' squad repeat that performance.
RB Leipzig vs Olympique Marseille
Who would have imagined Leipzig playing in the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals in their first year of European competition? The German side continues to defy the odds. Die Bullen have already eliminated two teams with far more European experience in Napoli and now Zenit St. Petersburg. Will they make it 3/3 to reach the semifinals? They will have a tough opponent but there is no question Ralph Hasenhuttl has enough talent to go toe-to-toe with anyone in this competition.
Marseille is UEFA's in-form side going into this tie. Les Phoceens dispatched Athletic Bilbao in the Round of 16 with a convincing 2-1 win at the San Mames, 5-2 on aggregate. Rudi Garcia's squad is kicking into top gear, riding a four-game undefeated streak across all competitions. If they have a weakness it's in defence. L'OM have conceded at least once in each of their last seven but it hasn't mattered. With Dmitri Payet, Florian Thauvin, and Valere Germain, they have firepower to spare. Will they get the job done against Leipzig’s newcomers?
Lazio vs RB Salzburg
If you are looking for a tie with decent upset potential, look no further. Red Bull is not an official Europa League sponsor but they still have two clubs in the final eight.
Lazio rank among Serie A's most potent attacks but they are prone to committing defensive mistakes. They concede too easily. Salzburg was the better side across both games against Borussia Dortmund, earning their quarterfinal berth. Marco Rose's playing style could pose more than one problem for the Eagles.
Based on roster strength Lazio have the edge. But Salzburg has developed a taste for giant-killing. Don't be surprised if you have an unexpected urge for an energy drink in a skinny blue and silver can when the semifinals roll around.
Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Marseille and RB Salzburg are the most likely sides to reach the semifinals.
Arsenal and Atletico certainly have an advantage on paper against their opponents. Marseille can capitalise on Leipzig's cramped fixture list. They will be the more rested side. Lazio have more talent and depth than Salzburg but their defensive problems worry. Die Roten Bullen eliminated the even more high-powered Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16. Lazio shouldn't faze them. Momentum could drive them to another upset.