Arsenal and Atlético Madrid to battle for Europa League final berth
And then there were four.
The Europa League quarterfinals played out Thursday. Arsenal held off a CSKA uprising. Atletico outlasted Sporting. RB Salzburg and Marseille succeeded in coming from behind, because this week.
The draws for the Europa and Champions Leagues were held this morning. In both cases, the heavyweights were drawn against one another. Real Madrid will have to go through Bayern to reach their fourth final in five years. Atletico Madrid threaten Arsenal's 2018/19 Champions League hopes.
Elsewhere, the upset kings all square off. Liverpool face AS Roma. Marseille have RB Salzburg.
Here's an early look at the two Europa League matchups.
Arsenal v Atletico Madrid
Arsenal have been among the favourites to win it all since they finished last season in fifth and Manchester United hoisted the trophy to qualify for this season's Champions League. Honestly, why shouldn't the Gunners have been in the conversation? Their squad is good enough to participate in the Champions League.
Arsene Wenger's problem is that description fits Atletico Madrid even better. Diego Simeone's side crashed out of the tournament, finishing a stunning third in their group. As soon as the Rojiblancos dropped down into the secondary competition, they became the default favourites.
Perhaps most fans would have liked to see Atletico and Arsenal meet in a potential decisive match but fate wanted it otherwise. I'm on fate's side. We get to see them play twice in the semifinal.
Arsenal will play their trademark possession-based style. Atletico will counter with their grit, tenacity, Diego Costa, and Antoine Griezmann. In other words, Los Colchoneros will try to bully and run the Gunners off the pitch simultaneously.
Olympique Marseille v RB Salzburg
This tie does not have the same cache as Arsenal against Atletico Madrid but fans should not take it for granted. Both sides will come to play. Expect to feast on goals if you watch this tie. OM and die Roten Bullen have defined prolific in Europe this season.
As noted, both teams are coming off impressive comebacks in their respective quarterfinals. Marseille defeated RB Leipzig 5-3 on aggregate score after losing the first leg 1-0 and conceding in the second leg's third minute. Rudi Garcia's side had to overcome a 0-2 deficit and an away goal. With Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin on the flanks, it was no problem.
RB Salzburg are the least famous horse in the energy drink empire's football stable. Both Leipzig and New York have pushed in front for the team photo. While a comparatively small club, they cannot be taken lightly. Marco Rose's side eliminated Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16. Then they dispatched Lazio in the quarterfinals. Their comeback was even more epic than Marseille's. After losing 4-2 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the Austrians countered with a 4-1 win at Red Bull Arena. If hipsters and millennials were hoping for an all Red Bull final, they can't blame Salzburg for letting them down.
With Payet and Thauvin, Marseille have the edge on paper, but Salzburg have truly embraced modernity. They go paperless. Don't be surprised if the Austrians reach their first European final.