Europa League quarter-finals: 3 biggest lessons
The Champions League quarter-finals broke new ground. Not content to settle for the role as the continent's less-favored stepchild, the Europa League had no choice but to follow suit on Thursday night. It didn't disappoint, producing a high dose of quality, suspense, drama and heartbreak.
After a dominant 2-0 triumph in the first leg, Atletico Madrid was lucky to return from Portugal with a semi-final ticket. Los Rojiblancos seemingly didn’t turn up, yet Sporting Lisbon was unable to find that elusive second goal to stretch the tie. Lazio, though, wasn’t that fortunate against RB Salzburg. The Romans travelled to Austria with a 4-2 cushion, only to surrender helplessly, going down 6-5 on aggregate.
Red Bull will have just one representative in Friday's draw. Although Leipzig put up a solid shift, it wasn’t enough to advance as Marseille triumphed 5-3 on aggregate. There was no such turnaround in Russia. After taking a 2-0 lead, CSKA Moscow had their hearts broken. Goals from Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey restored parity on the night to ease Arsenal into the last four.
The Europa League quarter-finals taught many lessons. Here are the three most interesting.
More glamour in Europa
The Champions League last-eight showcased exciting, attacking football at its finest. The four ties produced an incredible 24 goals. Bar Bayern Munich versus Sevilla, the other clashes all produced six-goal hauls or more.
But if goals are the metric for quality then the Europa League stands atop, seven strikes to the good during the quarter-final stage. Lazio against Salzburg yielded the most with 11. The tie between Arsenal and CSKA produced nine, followed by Marseille versus Leipzig with eight. Lastly, Atletico and Sporting, two ultra-defensive sides, found the net three times.
Arsenal will never change
Consistency has forever been Arsenal’s bane. Just when some sort of momentum starts to build, Arsene Wenger's men inevitably falter. They continue to draw criticism for lacking character.
Yet again, that ugly scourge came to the fore against CSKA. With a 4-1 lead to protect, all the Gunners had to do was avoid a three-goal slump in Russia. They were 2-0 down after 50 minutes, though. Typical Arsenal.
CSKA had plenty of time to level the tie, and possibly even sneak a winner. But the Russians lost their sharpness. Fortune favored Arsenal.
No clear favourite
Before the last round, Atletico and Arsenal were the two front-runners to lift the Europa League trophy. However, that may have changed slightly after the quarter-finals. Neither side looked convincing over the two legs against, supposedly, weaker opposition. Diego Simeone's men were far from their best in overcoming Sporting. The Gunners, meanwhile, would have perhaps been eliminated against a more clinical side.
Both Marseille and Salzburg showed great character to dispatch Leipzig and Lazio respectively. Rudi Garcia's men recovered from a one-goal deficit in Germany, as well as an early blip at home, to make the last four. They notched five goals over the two legs to ensure Leipzig's two away strikes counted for nothing. Salzburg were also hugely impressive. After going down 4-2 in Italy last week, they recovered emphatically on home soil, scoring four times in just 20 minutes to advance.
All four teams remaining in this season's Europa League have the quality to clinch the title.