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Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle have a real chance of Europa League glory

Even though there is no English interest in the Champions League, the same cannot be said of the Europa League where there are three teams battling to make the final at the Amsterdam Arena on May 15th. All the English teams face tough tasks though, and the draw has conjured up four ties between teams that have never met before.

Chelsea v Rubin Kazan

Whilst Chelsea may have been installed as bookmakers favourites following the draw they take a step into the unknown against the Russian outfit. Chelsea have been far from convincing in Europe this season, crashing out of the Champions League as holders at the group stage and then scraping past Sparta Prague and Steaua Bucharest in the first two rounds of this competition. Rubin meanwhile have been mightily impressive in getting to this stage. They topped their group ahead of Inter Milan who they thumped 3-0 at home. They then followed that by knocking out the holders Atletico Madrid 2-1 on aggregate, which included a 2-0 victory in the Vicente Calderon.

John Obi Mikel

Rubin have a mixture of nationalities in their squad including their danger man, the Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon who has scored five goals in the competition so far. While he is their main threat up front Rubin also have a solid backline, which has only conceded four goals in their 10 games so far and two of those came in the first group game away at Inter. Make no mistake; this is a massive test for Chelsea, and with the away leg coming second the Blues may need a couple of goals advantage to take to Russia. These two games also come in a spell of six games in 16 days for Chelsea and all that may add up to a shock in this tie.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Basel

The easiest looking tie for the English clubs on paper begins at White Hart Lane as Spurs take on the rank outsiders FC Basel. Tottenham cruised through their group as runners-up behind Lazio and have then fought their way through two tough ties against Lyon thanks to a late Mousa Dembele goal and against Inter Milan on away goals. Basel started the season in the Champions League but lost out to Cluj in the final play-off round. Having dropped into the Europa League they finished second in a weak group behind Genk before seeing off Ukrainian minnows Dnipro. They were impressive in the last round though, knocking out Liverpool’s conquerors Zenit 2-1 on aggregate.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Basel have a good blend of youth and experience with the Swiss pairing of Marco Streller and Alex Frei still scoring goals at this level. Over two legs though Spurs will surely be a class above and if Inter Milan struggled to contain the likes of Gareth Bale then it is hard to see how the Swiss will fare any better. Being at home first does make things harder for Tottenham as they have not been too convincing away from home thus far, but they will surely be too far ahead after the first leg for it to make a difference.

Fenerbahce v Lazio

The only tie that does not contain an English team but it is still very tough to call. Fenerbahce are another team who came down from the Champions League after losing their play-off to Spartak Moscow. Their path through the group stage was easy enough finishing top of their pool, however during the knockout rounds they have been unconvincing in getting past Bate 1-0 on aggregate and Plzen 2-1 over the two games. Lazio have been much more impressive, topping the group ahead of Spurs and then scoring five times in each of their knockout rounds against Borussia Monchengladbach and Stuttgart.

Raul Meireles

Both sides have a lot of experience running through their teams. Lazio have the likes of Miroslav Klose and Lorik Cana while Fenerbahce have some well-known faces in the form of Joseph Yobo, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt. Lazio may well just have the edge in this tie though through their goal threat. They have the Czech striker Libor Kozak who has managed eight goals in eight games so far and the unpredictable Mauro Zarate. With Lazio at home second they have to be favourites and will have too much firepower for an unspectacular Fenerbahce side.

Benfica v Newcastle United

The final tie should be an absolute cracker as Portuguese heavyweights Benfica take on Newcastle. Newcastle have been solid if unspectacular so far, coming second in their group behind Bordeaux and then going through 1-0 on aggregate in both knockout rounds against tricky opposition in the shape of Metalist Kharkiv and Anzhi Makhachkala. Benfica are another team that dropped out of the Champions League, finishing third in their group behind Celtic and Barcelona despite a creditable 0-0 draw at Camp Nou. They have won every game in the Europa League so far though beating both Bayer Leverkusen and Bordeaux home and away.

Moussa Sissoko

Benfica’s main threat is of course their goal machine Oscar Cardozo who already has three in four games in this competition. They also have exciting young midfielders in Nicolas Gaitan and Nemanja Matic and the experience at the back with Luisao and Ezequiel Garay. Newcastle could not have wished for a tougher task and a lot will depend on how their young team cope with the intimidating atmosphere in Lisbon in the first leg. If Newcastle can continue their solid defensive form then they may give themselves a chance of a special European night at St James Park in the return game.

By Chris Newman

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Champions League preview: Chelsea, Inter, Bayern and Real Madrid with work to do

The Champions League quarter final contestants will be decided this week, as the final four fixtures of the round of 16 take place on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. After stellar performances from the underdogs in the respective first legs, four favourites have work to do to make the last eight.

Chelsea vs Napoli

Since the 3-1 first leg defeat to an in-form Napoli in Italy, Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas Boas and will need to up their game if they are to stand a chance of progression; despite domestic wins of late, Walter Mazzarri’s men will pose a more stern test. The hosts need an attacking outlook, but with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik ready to pounce, John Terry’s role at the back is equally as important as the team’s attackers. Napoli have goals in them, but are also susceptible at the back; this was showcased in their 6-3 win over Cagliari on Friday night. Away goals could decide this tie.

Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow

Real Madrid were expected to walk all over CSKA in the first leg, but the Russians put up an ardent fight to get a 1-1 draw at the Luzhniki through an injury-time equaliser. Jose Mourinho’s men are still in a dominant position to progress, with Cristiano Ronaldo in superb goal-scoring form; the Portugal international has 45 goals already in all competitions this term. The travelling support will pin their hopes on promising attacking duo Alan Dzagoev and Seydou Doumbia, but anything other than Madrid progression would be a massive shock.

Inter vs Marseille

Marseille take a slender 1-0 advantage to the San Siro on Tuesday, after a last-gasp Andre Ayew header gave the French side victory at the Stade Velodrome in the first leg. Claudio Ranieri has come under increasing pressure due to domestic inconsistency, and if Inter are eliminated the head coach will fear for his future. Didier Deschamps’ men are not in good form either however, and have lost all four Ligue 1 games since beating Inter in February. The midfield battle will be key to deciding the fixture and should be a pulsating watch, as Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano face Esteban Cambiasso and Wesley Sneijder.

Bayern Munich vs Basel

Bayern have high hopes for this season’s Champions League as the final will be held at the Allianz Arena, however Jupp Heynckes’ men have stuttered of late and are 1-0 down against Basel after the first leg. The Bavarian giants did have ideal preparation for the second leg by beating Hoffenheim 7-1 on Saturday, with Mario Gomez grabbing a hat-trick. The Swiss champions will look to their excellent showing at Old Trafford earlier in the season as motivation, with Bayern-bound Xherdan Shaqiri the visitors’ fulcrum of attack.

With AC Milan, Barcelona, APOEL and Benfica already in the quarters, four close games will decide the remaining participants. Madrid should overcome CSKA, whilst Chelsea will most likely be eliminated by a classy Napoli outfit. Marseille have the quality to compound Inter’s misery and Bayern should fight back to knock out Basel – just.

Published – Soccerlens

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