UEFA Europa League: What to look out for in the quarter-final first legs
Thursday, 7 April 2022
Catch up on all the stories ahead of the UEFA Europa League quarter-final openers.
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A fearless Frankfurt welcome Barcelona, Rangers are not going to Braga "for a day out" and an unbeaten Lyon side travel to West Ham with a point to prove.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car presents UEFA.com's guide to the stand-out stories.
Quarter-finals first legs
Thursday 7 April
Leipzig vs Atalanta (18:45 CET)
Braga vs Rangers
West Ham vs Lyon
Frankfurt vs Barcelona
Guess the winner of every match from now until the end of the season to create your Europa League bracket.
Kick-offs 21:00 CET unless otherwise stated. Second legs on 14 April.
Atalanta size up next German test
Having already eliminated the Bundesliga's third-placed side Bayer Leverkusen, the German top flight's fourth-placed team are Atalanta's next challenge. Leipzig are featuring in their second quarter-final in three Europa League attempts – their first coming in 2017/18 – while La Dea last reached this stage in the 1990/91 UEFA Cup. Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco is "personally really pleased" to have drawn the Italian outfit, saying he admires their transition from a "yo-yo club" to a "well-organised team" but "fears their physicality".
However, he knows his Leipzig side possess their own "unique qualities", and crucially Tedesco has Christopher Nkunku at his disposal. The 24-year-old is closing on 30 goals in all competitions this season, having struck seven in the UEFA Champions League, and the in-form attacking midfielder earned his first senior France call-up ahead of the quarter-finals.
Daring Rangers face Braga's young guns
Ryan Kent was the hero the last time these teams met in 2019/20, scoring in their round of 32 decider to sink the Portuguese outfit at the Estádio Municipal de Braga. On the scoresheet again as the Glasgow side dispatched Crvena zvezda in the last 16 this season, the winger has vowed that the Light Blues will be "not just here for a day out" as they aim for the semi-finals.
Both sides are now under new stewardship. Giovanni van Bronckhorst is making his quarter-final debut as a manager in Europe, while Carlos Carvalhal is aiming to guide his youthful side beyond their last-32 achievements of the two previous seasons. "If you don't have a dog, you hunt with a cat," says the Braga coach, explaining, "We are blooding 13 boys from the academy and we are still very, very positive."
On the losing side in 2019/20, Braga striker Abel Ruiz intends to "make history" when the sides meet. However, having avoided West Ham in the semi-finals draw, Van Bronckhorst's men will surely have half an eye on a potential all-British final in Seville.
West Ham won't stop dreaming
West Ham skipper Mark Noble, who has announced that his 18th season with the club will be his last, praised the "phenomenal" noise inside the London Stadium during the previous round. The Hammers overturned a first-leg defeat to see off Europa League specialists Sevilla on an unforgettable night in east London to reach the quarter-finals.
Peter Bosz's Lyon edged Porto to progress, but the coach has found it "difficult to explain" Lyon's inconsistent form. They are currently mid-table in Ligue 1, although they still harbour "great ambitions" in Europe, where they remain undefeated.
West Ham are aiming for the European places in England, meanwhile, and full-back Ben Johnson believes the Irons "can lock horns" with the best teams and go all the way in the Europa League. David Moyes' side will face a determined OL aiming to salvage their season, but on the back of a historic last-16 fightback and brimming with confidence, Pablo Fornals is thinking big: "We're dreaming again [...] so why stop?"
Frankfurt optimistic against well-oiled Barcelona
Kevin Trapp expects the Frankfurt Stadion to be "bursting with fans" and boasting an "unbelievable atmosphere" when 1979/80 UEFA Cup winners Frankfurt welcome Barcelona for the first leg. The sides have never met in a competitive fixture, but Barça were 2-0 victors in their most recent friendly, in 1976.
To reach the quarter-finals, the German side squeezed past Betis and "to put it bluntly, if you get through against the fifth-placed team in Spain, you can also do it against the third-placed one," surmised Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner. However, Eintracht will be coming up against stiff competition in Xavi Hernández's settled side, who have put together a run of impressive results of late.
Barça's biggest threat will come in the shape of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has been hitting the target regularly since joining in the winter, and if the Gabon striker needs any extra motivation to find the net against Eintracht, he's now just seven goals away from breaking Radamel Falcao's all-time competition top scorer record of 30.
14 April: Quarter-final second legs
28 April & 5 May: Semi-finals
18 May: Final (Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Seville)