An all-English final is still on the cards as the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals get under way but Chelsea FC, Newcastle United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC are unlikely to receive an easy passage to the last four.
Numbers – and history – appear to be favouring the Premier League contenders. The only nation to have more than one representative in the last eight, English fans can take comfort in the knowledge that in each previous UEFA Europa League season in which three sides from the same country have made the quarter-finals – 2010/11 and 2011/12 – two of those teams went on to contest the final.
Rafael Benítez's Chelsea may feel the odds are stacked their way as they take on first-time quarter-finalists FC Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge, but the Russian outfit have already eliminated holders Club Atlético de Madrid and have not lost in five European away games. The Londoners, however, have extra motivation – UEFA Europa League success would make them the first British side to complete a clean sweep of the three major UEFA club honours (European Champion Clubs' Cup, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League).
Tottenham approach the quarter-finals boasting one of the competition's star performers in Welsh forward Gareth Bale. They are also the sole remaining challenger to have lifted this trophy before, triumphing in the 1971/72 and 1983/84 editions of the UEFA Cup. Their opponents are FC Basel 1893 who knocked out another former UEFA Cup winner, FC Zenit St Petersburg, in the round of 16.
Newcastle are the one member of the English trio yet to win a top UEFA tournament (though they picked up the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969) – and they seemingly have the toughest task, with former European champions SL Benfica lying in wait in Lisbon on 4 April. The Magpies, though, have earned a reputation for resilience under manager Alan Pardew, having kept clean sheets in all four European games since Christmas.
The only tie with no English involvement has an odd sub-plot of its own, with Fenerbahçe SK coach Aykut Kocaman having been on the losing side in two previous encounters with S.S. Lazio counterpart Vladimir Petković. The Bosnian-born Petković eliminated the Yellow Canaries from 2010/11 UEFA Champions League qualifying with BSC Young Boys, then secured a 3-1 victory over the same opponents during a brief spell in Turkey as Samsunspor boss.
The second legs will be played on 11 April, with the semi-final draw being staged the following day. The final will take place at the Amsterdam ArenA on 15 May.
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