And then there were eight…
After an exciting (but mostly chalk) Round of 16, we have arrived at the Europa League quarterfinals. The draw – which placed the teams in quarterfinal and semifinal brackets – occurred earlier this morning in Switzerland. Restrictions as to who could play have been lifted, though we did have a scheduling change after the draw due to two London teams each being drawn as home clubs for the same leg.
Let’s take a quick look at the matchups and the favorites as they stand now. We’ll be back in April to preview the individual matchups more in-depth before the first leg kicks off on 11 April.
Quarterfinal 1 – Arsenal (England) v Napoli (Italy)
Arsenal needed a big win against Rennes of France yesterday to reach this stage, and they came through with a big win in Emirates to advance 4-3 on aggregate. Napoli, on the other hand, had a much easier go of it, though they did surrender three (mostly) meaningless goals to Red Bull Salzburg to also advance 4-3 on aggregate.
Prior to the draw, Arsenal had a 57% chance of making the semifinals (according to FiveThirtyEight), with a 15% chance of emerging victorious from the final in Baku. Napoli was slightly better in both regards, with a 62% chance of reaching the semis and an 18% chance of winning it all. Both these numbers declined slightly after the draw due to more favorable matchups elsewhere, but Napoli is still the slight favorite to advance to the semifinals – against the winner of Quarterfinal 2 – at 53%.
Quarterfinal 2 – Villarreal (Spain) v Valencia (Spain)
There will be at least one Spanish team in the semifinals, which has to be good news for La Liga, as only Barcelona remains in the draw over in the Champions League. Unfortunately, the two remaining Spanish clubs were drawn against each other here, greatly diminishing Spain’s chance of repeating as double champions in European competition.
Villarreal easily advanced versus Zenit Saint Petersburg, winning 5-2 on aggregate in matches that weren’t nearly as close as the scores indicated. Valencia had a little tougher time, falling behind Krasnodar on aggregate (due to away goals) in leg two, only to save their advancement by scoring three minutes into stoppage time to advance 3-2 on aggregate. Their reward for each defeating a Russian club was to advance to play each other apparently.
Valencia was boosted slightly on the draw, moving from 58% to advance to the semifinals before the draw to 64% once their matchup was known. They host the all-important second leg of the match, which likely helped to give them the advantage. Villarreal’s performance in La Liga – currently 17th place; Valencia is in 7th – also probably helped. Valencia has the third-best odds of winning, but a tough semifinal draw against the winner of QF1 could change that once this round is complete.
Quarterfinal 3 – Benfica (Portugal) v Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany)
Benfica entered the second leg of their Round of 16 match against Dinamo Zagreb down a goal, but thought it best to rest some regulars when the action returned to Portugal. The gritty Croatians held them in check for 70 minutes before surrendering the equalizing goal, and Benfica needed extra time before advancing 3-1 on aggregate. Eintracht Frankfurt and Inter Milan played the only scoreless draw during leg one, and Eintracht Frankfurt came through at San Siro, scoring an early goal and holding on to advance by the slimmest of margins – 1-0 on aggregate.
In advance of the draw, both clubs had about a 50% chance of reaching the semifinals and a 10% chance of winning the whole thing. After the draw, these numbers didn’t change much, with each maintaining about a 50% chance of reaching the semifinals. However, likely facing tournament favorite Chelsea in the semifinal has dropped their chances of winning down to 8%, though an upset in QF4 would be beneficial to all teams.
Quarterfinal 4 – Slavia Prague (Czech Republic) v Chelsea (England)
Perhaps the most surprising result of yesterday’s Round of 16 action was Slavia Prague overcoming Sevilla in extra time to advance 6-5 on aggregate. A 2-2 draw in Spain during the first leg increased Slavia Prague’s chances of advancing to a mere 30%. As the hosts for the second leg, and in possession of two away goals, enhanced the options for advancing.
They went ahead early in the match, and the again after halftime began after Sevilla equalized right before the break. Sevilla equalized yet again, and Slavia Prague held on for 40 minutes to force extra time after the clubs were drawn 4-4 on aggregate. Sevilla scored first in the extra time, but Slavia Prague fought back to draw again right before the extra time break. The clubs were scoreless for nearly 15 more minutes, seemingly heading to penalties, when Traoré came through in the 119th minute to put Slavia Prague up for good. They advanced to the quarterfinals…
…only to get drawn against tournament favorite Chelsea. The English club easily dispatched Dynamo Kyiv last round, advancing 8-0 on aggregate. They had a 68% chance of advancing to the semifinals before the draw, and that increased to 95% after they were drawn against the plucky club from Czechia. They have a one-in-three chance of winning the tournament, and it appears that Slavia Prague will be the latest victim in their path. But Slavia Prague has overcome huge odds before, so I have a sliver of hope.
As mentioned above, we’ll be back in a few weeks to preview the matchups a little more in depth, but based on the draw, it really looks like this tournament might be Chelsea’s to lose. Can anyone step up against them?
Until next time…