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Europa League: previews and predictions for the quarter-finals

The Guardian - Thu Apr 8 07:00

Granada v Manchester United

Granada have more than exceeded expectations since they were promoted to La Liga in 2019. They finished seventh in their first season back in the top flight, securing a place in the Europa League as a result. After knocking out Napoli and Molde on their way to the quarter-finals, they are not to be underestimated by Manchester United.

Defensively, they have been poor in La Liga this season – they have conceded more goals (49) than any other team in the division – but have shipped just two goals in their six home matches in the Europa League. United will test that resolve, having scored in all five of their away outings in Europe so far this season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have lost only three times on the road this season, two of which came in European competition as they fell to defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir and RB Leipzig in their doomed Champions League campaign. After coming from behind to beat Brighton on Sunday night, confidence should be high in the United camp as they seek European glory.

Solskjær, though, is unable to call upon the services of Anthony Martial, who sustained a knee injury on international duty. Marcus Rashford limped off early against Brighton and will be assessed before the game. Eric Bailly has tested positive for Covid-19 and will be unavailable for a game he would likely have started.

Prediction: Manchester United to win the first leg and progress to the semi-finals.

Arsenal v Slavia Prague

Arsenal had a disappointing return from the international break, losing 3-0 at home to Liverpool and extending their winless run to three matches. They also lost their last game in the Europa League, falling to a 1-0 defeat to Olympiacos at the Emirates but ultimately progressing to the quarter-finals thanks to a 3-1 win in the first leg.

David Luiz will miss the visit of Slavia Prague having recently undergone knee surgery. Mikel Arteta is sweating on the fitness of Kieran Tierney after he was forced off in the loss to Liverpool with a knee problem. Youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka will be assessed, as will Granit Xhaka after he sat out the game on Saturday through illness.

Slavia Prague should not be taken lightly by Arsenal. After playing out a goalless draw with Zbrojovka Brno over the weekend, they are now unbeaten in 21 matches, with their last defeat coming at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League back in December.

Ondrej Kolar and David Hovorka are confirmed absentees for Slavia Prague. The 18-year-old Matyas Vagner is set to deputise for Kolar and will hope to put on a better showing than he did at the weekend, when he was sent off after just 18 minutes. Ibrahim Traoré is hoping to return to fitness in time for the trip to London, but Ondrej Kudela is suspended after allegedly racially abusing the Rangers player Glen Kamara in the previous round.

Prediction: Slavia Prague to progress after a draw in the first leg.

Ajax v Roma

Ajax take on Roma in the standout quarter-final tie. A 2-1 win at Heerenveen at the weekend took Ajax 11 points clear at the top of the Eredivisie and they still have a game in hand on second-place PSV. The victory stretches their unbeaten run to a whopping 24 matches, 21 of which they have won.

They may be in great form, but Ajax will be without three key players in André Onana, Daley Blind and Sébastien Haller. Onana is serving a 12-month doping ban and is unavailable until next year; Daley Blind is injured; and Ajax inexplicably left Haller out of their squad for the Europa League knockout stage, which is a huge blow given his start to life in the Netherlands – the former West Ham player has scored seven goals and set up five more in his 12 league games so far. Noussair Mazraoui has not featured since February, but is closing in on a return to fitness.

A run of just two wins in seven games has dented Roma’s hopes of finishing in the top four in Serie A, but their Europa League record is solid, with Paulo Fonseca overseeing just one defeat in the competition. Away from home, they have been inconsistent of late, winning three and drawing two of their last six matches.

Fonseca is without a handful of important players for the trip to Amsterdam. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nicolo Zaniolo and Chris Smalling are all injured, and Rick Karsdorp is suspended. No player has scored more goals than Borja Mayoral in the Europa League this season (seven) and he will lead the charge for Roma on Thursday.

Prediction: Ajax to win the first leg and progress to the semi-finals.

Dinamo Zagreb v Villarreal

Dinamo Zagreb reached the quarter-finals thanks to an inspired comeback against Tottenham and they are hoping to defy the odds again against Villarreal to secure a spot in the last four. Damir Krznar masterminded an impressive 3-0 win over Spurs having succeeded Zoran Mamic as head coach last month, but he is without striker Bruno Petkovic this week due to a shoulder injury. Petkovic has scored four times in the Europa League this season, so his absence is a huge blow. Aside from the towering Croat, though, Krznar has a fully fit squad.

Villarreal manager Unai Emery only has two injury concerns: left-back Pervis Estupiñán and defensive midfielder Vicente Iborra, but neither was guaranteed to start in any case. Villarreal are currently sixth in La Liga after an up-and-down campaign. They have won their last three league games after failing to win the previous eight.

Gerard Moreno has been on fire for Villarreal recently. He scored a hat-trick against fellow Europa League quarter-finalists Granada on Saturday, meaning he has now either scored or set up 18 of the last 21 goals the Spanish side have scored. Only Lionel Messi has scored more goals than Moreno in La Liga this season – Moreno has scored 19 league goals in 24 appearances – so Dinamo Zagreb have been warned.

Prediction: Villarreal to progress after a draw in the first leg.