The Round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League unfolds over the next two Thursdays, so before the action kicks off around Europe on Thursday afternoon, we thought we would preview the eight matchups of the round.
Our final match is between Spanish club Villarreal, who welcomes Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg to Spain. The match kicks off from Estadio de la Cerámica in Villarreal on 14 March 2019 at 8:00pm GMT (4:00pm EST).
What Happened in Leg 1
Villarreal was a two-to-one favorite to advance to the quarterfinals prior to leg one, and their performance in Saint Petersburg showed why. Eventually.
The clubs traded goals in the first half less than two minutes apart, with Vincente Iborra scoring for Villarreal in the 33rd minute and Sardar Azmoun answering for Zenit seconds later. The clubs were even at 1-1 at halftime and it seemed that it would be a fairly equal match.
Villarreal came out of the break and dominated the second half, scoring two goals – Gerard in the 64th minute and Manu Morlanes in the 71st – to leave Russia with a 3-1 victory. For the game, Villarreal outshot Zenit 13-6 – “on target” shots were 8-4 for the Spaniards – and possessed the ball for 58% of the match. They passed better, defended better, and just looked like the better team in all facets.
What the Experts are Saying
Not surprisingly, with three road goals in the bank, Villarreal now has a 99% chance of advancing per our friends at FiveThirtyEight. They also receive the home club bump in the match itself, with a 64% chance of winning the match outright.
What We’re Thinking
I don’t know if Villarreal will win this match, but the chances of Zenit overcoming a two-goal deficit (and a three-away goal deficit) in order to advance. They need to score at least three goals, and then win by two goals. So, while a 2-0 loss would pull them equal on aggregate, they would miss out on advancing on away goals.
I just don’t think Zenit has the firepower, despite the clubs’ relative performance in their respective leagues this season. Zenit currently leads the Russian Premier League, while Villarreal is flirting with relegation from La Liga as they sit in 17th place. Villarreal definitely has more incentive to stay alive in the tournament; otherwise they miss out on a lucrative appearance in the Champions League (should they somehow win Europa League). Zenit probably blew it when they surrendered those second half goals in Russia last week.
Until next time…