Manchester United and Arsenal return to European action on Thursday as both try to reach the Europa League semi-finals
by Craig Humpage
Football Writer, Sporticos
Published on Wednesday 7 April 2021
We have reached the business end of the season and silverware is now in sight. Eight clubs still remain in Europe's second tier competition and for many of them the Europa League would not only represent a fantastic triumph in terms of winning a trophy but also the most realistic route into the Champions League. Many will be happy to see the absence of holders Sevilla who are so prolific in this tournament you could almost consider them the Real Madrid of the Europa League. The Andalusians reached the last 16 of the Champions League this time, narrowly losing to Borussia Dortmund over two legs, meaning they didn't drop in at the previous round. There are still some big teams involved but the two remaining Premier League clubs will be quite optimstic about their chances.
This Thursday (8 April) all four Quarter Final first legs will be played at the same time, at 20.00, and will all be broadcast exclusively on BT Sport. Here's where you can watch each game and what to expect from the teams involved.
Preview: Arsenal vs Slavia Prague (BT Sport 1)
The Gunners' 3-0 loss at the weekend against an otherwise struggling Liverpool really hammered home the troubles Mikel Arteta is having at the Emirates. They looked devoid of quality and spirit. Their last game in this competition wasn't much better. They slumped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Olympiakos but fortunately their 3-1 win in Athens in the reverse fixture got them over the line. They are here, but that is hardly inspiring stuff. Arsenal's form sees them languishing 10th in the Premier League table and facing the real possibility of missing out on European football altogether next season. Their only hope will be a win here but that is by no means guaranteed. While on paper Arsenal will have the stronger squad, football is often about confidence and their opponents Slavia Prague are full of it. They have already knocked out big British clubs in Leicester City (currently 3rd in the Premier League) and Rangers (Champions of Scotland). You could argue this will be a step down in opposition for them. Of course the Czech league isn't the Premier League but their 21 game unbeaten run in all competitions should be respected. They are a team full of confidence and togetherness, which knows how to win and has a lot of quality and pace going forward. They should cause Arteta's side real problems.
Arsenal will be without David Luiz and Kieran Tierney while Slavia also have defensive woes with Simon Deli and David Hovorka unavailable. Going forward both teams will have their top players avalilable. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not in the form of his life but if he turns it on he is capable of anything and Abdallah Sima already has four goals in the Europa League this season for Prague. They will both be looking to have an impact on the game. Despite Arsenal's clear weaknesses, they still have a lot of quality and should get through this test unscathed. Whether they can beat Manchester United or Ajax is another story but a defeat over two legs here would be a huge disappointment for the London side. With nothing to play for in the league I expect them to show total respect to Slavia and put in a solid performance.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 - 1 Slavia Prague
Granada vs Manchester United (BT Sport 2)
Ole Gunner Solskjaer's United look destined to finish runners-up in the Premier League this season and have all but guaranteed Champions League football for next year. They will probably therefore dive head first into this tie as a way of earning the Norwegian his first silverware at the club without the pressure of knowing they need to win it to qualify. They took care of AC Milan 2-1 in the previous round and with all due respect to Granada they should not pose the same threat as the Italian giants. Of course if they underestimate Granada they may come unstuck but if they are professional they should have the talent to get the job done. Granada are likely to field some familiar faces to Premier League fans. Veteran striker Roberto Soldado scored a priceless goal in the previous round to help them knock out Ole's former club Molde and Chelsea loanee Kenedy will also be in the ranks. Granada are currently ninth and in with an outside chance of qualifying for Europe again next year. They seem to be enjoying their first ever taste of European football. Earlier in the competition they beat Napoli over two legs. Granted the Italians are not quite what they were a few years ago but it was still a fantastic achievement. They are enjoying the ride. They will come into the game on the back of two defeats which is not ideal but they will believe they can get something out of the contest.
One thing which should buoy Granada is the news that Anthony Martial won't feature. The Frenchman could be out for the remainder of the season after picking up an injury on international duty. United will also be without Alex Telles and Eric Bailly due to Covid-19. Daniel James is likely to come into the side, having started all four Europa League games since they dropped into the competition from the Champions League. Granada will probably be without three of their conventional right backs in Carlos Neva, Dimitri Foulquier and Quini. Luis Suarez - not that one - is also a huge doubt due to a hamstring problem. So both sides have their injury problems but of the two it is clear to see which has the strength in depth to cover. Not only that but United are in great form. They have only lost once since January - a defeat by Leicester City in the FA Cup before the international break - in a run which included beating Southampton 9-0, beating Man City at the Etihad and eliminating two of the best teams in this competition in AC Milan and Real Sociedad. The Premier League side should be extremely confident. Anything can happen in football but if they field a strong side and take Granada seriously I fully expect them to comfortably win this first leg.
Prediction: Granada 0 - 3 Manchester United
Preview: Ajax vs Roma (BT Sport 3)
Two giants of European football meet in probably the most intruiging tie of the round. Ajax, along with Manchester United, are the only remaining former European Champions in the last eight and are in imperious form. They've predictably all but sewn up their 35th Eredivisie title having only dropped points against PSV in their past 12 matches. Erik ten Hag's side are also bossing the Europa League this season since dropping down from a Champions League group featuring Liverpool and Atalanta. They got past Lille and Young Boys, the former of which is currently keeping PSG off the top of Ligue 1. The Dutch have to be one of the favourites for the tournament and will at the very least hope to go to the final as they did four years ago, ultimately losing to Man United, but to do so they must get past Roma. The Italians are not having quite the same domestic success. Paulo Fonseca continues to draw the ire of many fans and pundits as his side fail to build any kind of consistency in Serie A and risk losing out on European football next season. Their shining light has been this competition, which they have largely dominated. They comfortably topped their group, then beat Braga and Shakhar Donetsk. They will hope to separate league form from cup form and continue to build momentum as they search for their first silverware since they won the Coppa Italia in 2008. Winning the Europa League is almost certainly their only way of reaching next season's Champions League and probably their only route to European football in general.
A lot of big names could be missing for this one. Stephan El Shaarawy is out with a thigh injury for Roma, as is Albanian defender Marash Kumbulla and they may or may not have the services of former Manchester United centre back Chris Smalling who is a doubt. Another former United player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also set to be absent. On loan Real Madrid striker Borja Mayoral is likely to start up front as his scoring exploits have been mostly confined to this competition. Club legend Edin Dzeko has been preferred in the league but when he's got his chances Borja has done very well, scoring seven goals, making him joint top scorer in this season's Europa League. Ajax could field young goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen as they did in the league in the absence of Maarten Stekelenburg (formerly of Roma) and Andre Onana, who are ruled out due to injury and doping offences respectively. Daley Blind may miss out for the Dutch due to a knee problem he picked up during the international break and Sebastien Haller is ruled out for the whole competition due to a bizarre clerical error. Taking into account the possible absentees and looking at the likely lineups it is still very evenly matched with a lot of quality. Whoever wins this tie will stand a huge chance of going all the way. I don't think we'll learn who that is from this first leg. I'm expecting a tight game ending in a draw.
Prediction: Ajax 1 - 1 Roma
Dinamo Zagreb vs Villarreal (BT Sport ESPN)
Nobody saw it coming. 2-0 down at the end of the first leg, manager sent to prison for fraud, up against a side who were in the Champions League final only two years ago coached by one of only three men in history to win the UEFA Champions League with two different clubs - it did not look good for Dinamo Zagreb. That made it all the sweeter when little known Mislav Orsic popped up in extra time to complete a hat trick and knock Tottenham Hotspur out of the Europa League. The Croatian Champions have never been this far in the Europa League and are now the dark horse to go all the way, probably a second team for many neutrals right now. Unai Emery's Villarreal will be a very tough proposition though. The Yellow Submarine moved up to sixth place with a 3-0 win over Granada at the weekend and are firmly in the Europa League places in La Liga. In Europe they are very consistent boasting six clean sheets in their last eight games and nine wins out of ten so far. They are the only remaining unbeaten side in the Europa League - very tough to beat and with great quality.
It is a difficult game to call as the two sides haven't met since 2011 when they both won their respective home games in the Europa League. Villarreal play against higher quality opposition on a weekly basis and that could stand them in good stead but it didn't exactly help Spurs out much. Zagreb appear unpredictable and as a group they seem to be full of fight and desire, as they showed agaisnt Mourinho's side. Apart from one or two minor injury problems both squads are fully fit and Zagreb are expected to field the same 11 they did in their David and Goliath victory in the last round. The only question mark is over the Villarreal goalkeeper berth where Unai Emery must decide whether to play Geronimo Rulli or Sergio Asenjo, who was recalled in the last round. This game also has draw written all over it. Villarreal are the technically better side but I don't know if they have the steel to go away to Zagreb and get a win especially with the belief that is surely in the Croatian camp right now. At the same time, lightning rarely strikes twice and I don't see Zagreb putting up quite the same level of performance they did against Spurs. All in all, I think a draw is a good shout.
Prediction: Dinamo Zagreb 1 - 1 Villarreal
How to watch UEFA Europa League on TV with BT Sport
BT Sport has exclusive rights to all top European competitions until 2024 including all UEFA Champions League matches, UEFA Europa League and even the upcoming UEFA Conference League. This week's games are no different. You can watch them live on TV exclusively with BT Sport.
You can enjoy a whole range of sport, including football, on TV in the UK with BT Sport. There are a number of different packages to choose from. Existing BT Broadband customers can add a package to their contract for as little as an extra £15 per month or new ones can get internet and TV packages for just £39.99 per month. Their "Big Sport" package includes all BT Sport channels and even Sky Sports channels through the Now TV pass. These types of deals are also available to people with Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin. For those who want live football without all the other hassle, there is the BT Sport monthly pass, which provides all BT Sport channels for only £25 per month. Whatever route you take, whatever TV channel you prefer, BT Sport has you covered when it comes to live football.
What's more, BT Sport are also currently offering six months of half price sport!
Click here to check out that offer and see the various options they have for new customers including the monthly pass and other packages.
How to watch UEFA Europa League online via live streaming with BT Sport
Football fans can watch matches wherever they want, however they want, when they add the BT Sport app into the mix. You don't need to be tied to the sofa. You can enjoy all the action anywhere in your home or on the go with your favourite devices via live streaming. Whatever channel you need, you can stream it. All you need is an internet connection and a subscription to BT Sport. The app is compatible with devices like smart TVs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and much more. Sign in and start streaming today. Terms and conditions apply.
Click here to find out more about the app and how to watch football via live stream.
There's also an unbelievable offer on right now for new and existing EE customers to get access to the BT Sport app completely free for three months. You can sign up and watch tonight's games on your phone without even having a BT Sport subscription.
Click here to read more about that.
Stay up to date with everything related to watching football
Always stay in the loop when it comes to where to watch your favourite football clubs with our dedicated live football page. There you will find out when your team is playing, what TV channel they are on, links to trusted, legal sources of live streaming and much, much more.
Click here to learn more about that.