Five talking points ahead of the Europa League quarter-finals

sportsmole.co.uk, 9 August 2020, 15:32
Five talking points ahead of the Europa League quarter-finals

Manchester United, Inter Milan, Sevilla and Wolves are among the clubs looking to make Europa League progress in the coming days.

United, champions in 2017, face FC Copenhagen in the last eight on Monday night, with Serie A giants Inter taking on Bayer Leverkusen at the same time.

The other two quarter-final ties take place on Tuesday evening, with Wolves hoping to overcome Sevilla, who are looking to win the Europa League for the sixth time in 14 years, and Shakhtar Donetsk meeting Basel.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key talking points ahead of the four fixtures, which are all being played in Germany.

Ole eyeing maiden title

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had his ups and downs since taking charge of Manchester United but the Red Devils now look to be heading in the right direction and a first title of the Norwegian's reign is in their sights. United bounced back from a hugely disappointing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea by securing a top-four finish in the Premier League, which means they can fully focus on the Europa League safe in the knowledge they will be back in the Champions League next season regardless. Solskjaer rested a host big guns for the clash against LASK and the return of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood could spell bad news for Copenhagen and the other remaining Europa League hopefuls.

Havertz heading to Chelsea?

Chelsea fans are likely to take a keen interest in the performance of Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, who is reportedly one of the Blues' main summer transfer targets. The 21-year-old Germany international has been an ever-present during Leverkusen's Europa League campaign this season, scoring three goals and handing out two assists along the way. However, Antonio Conte's highly-fancied Inter will pose a stiff task for both Havertz and Leverkusen in the last eight, with the Italian outfit unbeaten in nine games in all competitions, and having won their last four without conceding a goal.

Wolves tackle on-song Sevilla

Wolves are in their first European quarter-final in 48 years and will be desperate to further extend a season that began way back in July 2019, with the reward of returning to continental football next term if they can lift the trophy. Manchester United are potential semi-final opponents for Nuno Espirito Santos' men but first they will need to overcome the formidable obstacle of Sevilla. The Spanish side, who have never faced Wolves in a competitive fixture, are the most successful club in the competition's history and are looking to add to their triumphs in 2006, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sevilla also have form on their side, with Julen Lopetegui's men currently unbeaten in 18 matches in all competitions.

Underdogs looking to upset the odds

Ukraine outfit Shakhtar and Swiss side Basel are among the rank outsiders heading into the quarter-finals but both are enjoying one of their most fruitful runs in Europe for some time. Shakhtar won the Europa League in 2009 but have only reached the last four in Europe once since then. Basel, meanwhile, have reached the Europa League semi-finals just once - back in 2013. With the two clubs facing each other in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday, one of them is guaranteed to be playing in the last four, and the prospect of a rare chance at European glory will be tantalisingly close for the victor.

No second chances

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on sports and competitions across the globe, and the Europa League is no different. Games from here on will be settled by just one encounter, which will be played behind closed doors at one of four neutral venues in Germany - Dusseldorf, Cologne, Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen - in the space of 12 days. For clubs who usually get two bites of the cherry at the quarter and semi-final stage, the one-leg format offers no opportunities for redemption.

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