As the Europa League enters the quarter final stage, the eight remaining teams will begin to believe that they are destined to go all the way. It has been yet another wonderful year for the competition, with a number of twist and turns which has kept fans on the edge of their seat.
The fact that every team has fielded their strongest possible team during the group stage and knock-out rounds further disparages the belief that the Europa League is not valued or taken seriously by teams who participate. It is difficult to pick a winner from the teams left standing in the competition, with representatives from Spain, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Italy and Ukraine showing that there is considerable quality across the whole of Europe.
The reigning champions and three-times winners have powered through to the last eight, with Sevilla showing the sort of form that has put them among the favourites to win the Final in Warsaw. Unai Emery’s team have recorded impressive victories against Borussia Monchengladbach and fellow La Liga side Villarreal on their way to a potentially tricky quarter final tie against Zenit St. Petersburg. Sevilla may not have been at their best during the group stages, particularly as they drew against Standard Liege and Rijeka, but have more than made up for it during the knock-out stages. Carlos Bacca, Vitolo and Vincente Iborra have stood out throughout the tournament, but all three will have to remain on top form if Sevilla are to make history; not only could the Spaniards become the first team to win back-to-back European cups on two occasions, but also be the most successful club in the competition’s history by securing their fourth victory.
Wolfsburg have been installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to lift the 2015 Europa League, with the German side playing superb football in their domestic league and in Europe. Dieter Hecking’s side have been a joy to watch, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Bas Dost in sparkling form for a team who currently sit second in the Bundesliga and look set to qualify for next season’s Champions League. They may arrive at Europe’s elite table as Europa League winners if they remain on top of their game, with Wolfsburg sweeping Sporting Libson and Inter Milan aside to set up a mouth-watering clash with Napoli.
Parma’s 3-0 victory against Marseille in 1999 was not only the last time an Italian side triumphed in the European Cup, but also the last time a team from Italy reached the final. It is therefore long overdue that they have two representatives in the last eight, with Napoli considered to be strong contenders to go all the way. Rafa Benitez knows what it takes to win the Europa League, having done so as Chelsea manager when they beat Benfica in 2013, but it could be argued that Napoli have been fortunate to avoid any of the major contenders. They made light work of a group which included Young Boys, Slovan Bratislava and Sparta Prague, with the Serie A side then easing past Trabzonspor and Dinamo Moscow to set up a quarter final tie with Wolfsburg. It remains to be seen how Napoli perform against the Europa League favourites, but victory against the Germans would be a real statement of intent and put Benitez one step closer to yet another final.