Eight European clubs had their fate sealed on Friday morning as the Quarter-Final stage of the Europa League was decided.
Red Bull Leipzig were drawn against Ligue 1 side Marseille, who had overcome Athletic Bilbao convincingly in the round prior. The teams have never faced each other before in UEFA competitions, although Leipzig did play Monaco in the Champions League Group Stage earlier this season, taking four points off the French Champions.
This contest is likely to be one of the most balanced in the Quarter-Final stage, with both sides performing strongly in the knockout phases so far. Although, Marseille have won only once in their last 8 visits to Germany, whilst Leipzig were victorious when they visited Monaco at the end of last year winning 4-1. However, the proposition of a full Stade Velodrome and match-winning talents like Dimitri Payet could be a step too far for the Germans in their debut European campaign.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid face Sporting CP in a two-legged tie that should swing in the favour of Diego Simeone’s men. Both of these teams were in the Champions League Group Stage and could only manage a third-place finish, which was a positive for the Portuguese side considering their fierce opponents of Juventus and Barcelona.
However, Atletico will be looking to bounce back having been seen off by Chelsea and Roma in the Group Stage, and know that progressing to the latter phases of this competition could help to build on their European performances in recent years.
The only other time these two sides faced each other, was back in 2009/10 when Atletico went through on away goals, and eventually lifted the trophy that season too. Sporting have never managed a win in their previous 12 visits to Spain, and the Atletico faithful with be hoping for some silverware in their debut season at the Wanda Metropolitana, and their first European trophy since the Super Cup win in 2012.
Meanwhile, Red Bull Salzburg, who are yet to lose a game this season in Europe, will play Lazio in a fairly even battle. Whilst the Serie A side has the individual talent of Ciro Immobile, Anderson and Radu, Salzburg have had the edge over the last few ties.
For example, Lazio failed to beat Austrian opposition in their last 3 tries, including in 2009/10 when Lazio lost 2-1 to Salzburg in both the home and away fixtures. Nonetheless, it would be a surprise to see Lazio lose this contest over the two legs, as they seek their first European trophy since 1999, despite their focus also being on a 3rd place finish in Serie A.
Finally, Arsenal will play CSKA Moscow in a match-up that should see them qualify with relative ease. The Russian’s have lost their last 5 games against English opposition, most recently being against Manchester United and Spurs within the last two Champions League campaigns.
Whilst Arsenal have failed to win any of their last 4 trips to Russia, and actually losing 3 of them, you would think that Arsene Wenger will be prioritising his strongest side for the Europa League as he looks to do what he can to keep his job, and his legacy intact. With a top-four finish in the Premier League looking near impossible, winning this European competition could be his only way of getting Arsenal back into the Champions League next season.
Although it won’t be plain sailing for Arsenal as CSKA beat the Gunners’ back in 2006/07 in Russia, and managed to grind out a 0-0 draw in the Group Stage at the Emirates. But with added pressure on Arsene Wenger, you would expect the north Londoners to grind the result out.
Overall, the draw was definitely kind for the big sides and the neutrals, who can look forward to huge clashes in the Semi-Final, which will likely include: Marseille, Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Arsenal.