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What to look out for in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals

Decorated coaches, potent strikers and history makers could all come to the fore when the last eight kicks off.

Xabi Alonso, Romelu Lukaku, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jürgen Klopp
Xabi Alonso, Romelu Lukaku, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jürgen Klopp

A meeting of two coaches who get the best out of their players and a head to head between two striking units packed with goals are among the storylines when the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals get under way.

In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the first legs. Remember: Every mission matters.

Thursday 11 April
Milan vs Roma (21:00 CET)
Liverpool vs Atalanta (21:00 CET)
Leverkusen vs West Ham (21:00 CET)
Benfica vs Marseille (21:00 CET)

What happens next?

Quarter-final second legs: 18 April 
Semi-finals: 2 and 9 May 
Final: 22 May

What to look out for

Rock 'n' roll vs Gasperini trance
The fanfare that follows Jürgen Klopp has reached fever pitch since he announced he would be leaving Anfield at the end of the season, amplified by the electric football his youth-infused team have been playing. There is decidedly less fuss about Gian Piero Gasperini, but make no mistake – the impact he has had at Atalanta since his 2016 appointment (12 months after Klopp arrived at Liverpool) has also been seismic.

"A super coach", his Reds counterpart labelled the 66-year-old. Gasperini took the reins of a club fighting relegation and led them back to Europe after a 26-year absence, then to the Champions League for the first time, plus two Coppa Italia finals, all while playing a spectacular, high-risk attacking game. Anfield could witness another European classic: rock 'n' roll football against uplifting trance.

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Resurgent Roma out to end Milan hex
Former AC Milan and Roma coach Fabio Capello says it is impossible to name a favourite in the all-Italian tie, but recent history perhaps suggests otherwise: the Giallorossi have won just one of the sides' last 13 meetings. Roma lost 3-1 at San Siro in January the last time they met, a result that left them ninth in Serie A and precipitated the departure of José Mourinho.

Under Daniele De Rossi they have been a different proposition – their 4-0 demolition of Brighton in the last 16 was evidence of that, and cause for caution for Milan. So is the forward power at Roma's disposal, led by Romelu Lukaku and Paulo Dybala. Mind you, the Rossoneri aren't lacking on that front either: consider Rafael Leão, Christian Pulišić and 37-year-old Olivier Giroud, scorer in the teams' previous meetings this season.

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Wily West Ham eye Leverkusen scalp
It is worth reflecting on what Xabi Alonso is on course to achieve this season. Never in their 119-year history have Leverkusen won the German top flight. They have finished Bundesliga runners-up five times, lost three German Cup finals (compared to a solitary 1993 win) and famously missed out in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final. Yet this season they have been irresistible, blazing a trail at home and abroad.

They have created an aura of invincibility that grew with sensational comebacks against Qarabağ in the last 16. The tie also revealed frailty that won't have gone unnoticed by David Moyes. West Ham have become a formidable outfit in Europe, lifting the Conference League last term and summarily dispatching another German side, Freiburg, in another impressive campaign this time around. That hasn't gone unmissed by Alonso, either.

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Aubameyang thriving as Marseille focal point
After three lean seasons by his own high standards, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been back to his best this term. The Gabon forward, 34, passed the 20-goal mark at the start of March, is the Europa League top scorer and seems to be speeding up rather than slowing down as we reach the final straight. "He's the player," says coach Jean-Louis Gasset, whose arrival in February has coincided with the recent uptick.

"In any team, you have the player. You play him where he loves to be and you build the team around him. He scores goals, drops back if he must, and even shows a measure of generosity." The veteran is relishing being a focal point, and the generosity Gasset highlights is a new string to his bow – Aubameyang has already broken his Ligue 1 personal best. Benfica's vaunted defenders have a job on their hands.

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Where is the 2024 Europa League final being played?

©Getty Images

The 2023/24 Europa League season will conclude at Dublin Arena in the Republic of Ireland on 22 May 2024.

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