Yesterday’s Europa League draw went about as well as expected for the remaining Premier League representatives in Europe; Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle. They managed to avoid playing each other and Spurs in particular look to have a very winnable tie. A series of surprise results has seen the draw really open up for the English trio, so let’s look at their chances of winning their quarter-finals.
Spurs v FC Basel Basel are marginally the weakest of the 8 remaining teams in the Europa League. They currently sit in 2nd in the Swiss League but have found some form recently. Their key man is experienced Swiss national team striker Marco Strellar who has scored 16 goals in all competitions so far this season. He will likely be partnered by wily veteran Alexander Frei. However, these two really shouldn’t pose the Tottenham defence much in the way of significant headaches. They don’t possess the pace or physicality to cause any real issues. Having lost Xherdan Shaqiri last summer they are missing some attacking spark.
However, they have a very strong defence. They concede less than a goal a game and the unit, led by young Austrian Alexander Dragovic, is shielded by two defensive midfielders. Basel will get bodies behind the ball and try to squeeze the space that Spurs crave in attack. One thing they don’t have is the necessary pace to cope with the likes of Bale and Lennon, and that will be a key deficiency.
Spurs have the firepower to steam roll Basel in the home first leg and get the tie well and truly under control for the second. Spurs should win this easily.
Chelsea v Rubin Kazan Rubin Kazan are a dangerous dark horse for Chelsea to overcome. They may well only be 6th in the Russian league currently but they boast the second best defence in that league. Full backs Kuzmin and Ansaldi are good at both ends of the pitch and shielding midfielder Orbaiz offers them a Xavi-lite presence bringing structure and organisation. Their defensive group is strong and experienced, and so will be very difficult for Chelsea to break down. Chelsea have had some problems against heavily defensive set ups this season. They haven’t scored against QPR this year for example.
Rubin’s big problem this season has been a chronic lack of goals. There is no one in double figures for goals and no one name on the team sheet stands out as a real menace. The Chelsea defence has been wobbly at times but they shouldn’t really have anything to worry about. Like Spurs, they play at home first and if they can get a good 2-0 type win they will be heavily favoured. They should have enough to get it done.
Benfica v Newcastle United Benfica are the toughest of the English teams’ opponents. They are unbeaten domestically and are currently top of the table, ahead of also unbeaten Porto. They’ve scored a lot of goals and not conceded many. However, the lack of challenging football domestically could be their undoing. The players face an enormous jump in standard when playing in Europe, one that they have coped with well so far.
Their biggest threats are the dangerous attacking duo of Cardozo and Lima who have scored 22 and 16 respectively. They have a classy and well balanced midfield that are more than capable of monopolising the ball and making tackles. It sounds like a tough task for Newcastle, but the in form Magpies will feel like they can win it.
The win over Anzhi in the previous round, with out conceding, was a huge achievement. The influx of quality from France in January has given them a new depth and they are flowing full of belief in themselves. Their midfield is more than a match for Benfica and their attack poses a similar threat. If they can get an away goal and keep things tight in Portugal they would be favourites to win at home.