While the UEFA Champions League gets all the noise and press, it’s the same old suspects on that side. Unless you’ve been on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers stuck in your ears, you would have seen Real Madrid or Bayern Munich play in the Champions League. If you want drama, if you want to see long suffering fans finally get to see their fan win European glory check out the Europa League final eight.
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The quarterfinals draw has five teams that have never lifted a trophy including Besiktas that would become just the second Turkish club since Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup in 2000. They face Olympique Lyon who is looking to be the first French club to lift a European trophy since 1996. Lyon currently sitting in fourth in Ligue 1 will need to win if they plan on lifting a trophy this year.
For Celta Vigo they are looking to maintain Spain’s reputation in the competition, since 2010 a Spanish club has won five of the last seven titles. This is the farthest they’ve been in the competition since 2001. If they want to continue they’ll have to get by Racing Genk. While Anderlecht also in the final eight is the bigger Belgian club, Genk will try to make their own noise by taking out Celta Vigo. For Genk this is the farthest they’ve gotten in this competition and a win could mean a draw with Anderlecht in the semi-finals.
Speaking of Anderlecht, as the most successful club in Belgian history they will try to do something they haven’t done in 34 years. In 1983 Anderlecht won this competition when it was still called the UEFA Cup. While domestically they’ve been dominant against European competition they’ve struggled, their place in the quarterfinals is their best in a competition since 1997. They are currently in first place in the Belgian League and have a chance to lift a double this year.
If Anderlecht will survive this competition they’ll have to get by Manchester United. There is no doubt of United’s pedigree but as they sit in fifth in the Premier League they’ll only collect another trophy if they can beat the Belgian greats. With rumors of Zlatan Ibrahimovic going to MLS, this will be a last chance for him to lift a European cup and help restore United to its European glory.
In the last matchup it’s a meeting between teams that have tasted European glory, but those days are in the distance. German club Schalke 04 will be facing Dutch greats Ajax. Neither team has won a European competition since the 90’s as both teams lifted the UEFA Cup. For Schalke one of the richest football clubs in the world this year has been a struggle as they find themselves outside of the top ten in the Bundesliga after finishing fifth last year. If they want to continue to European glory they’ll have to forget their domestic troubles.
Ajax may dominate the Dutch league but it’s been a long time since they ruled Europe as the inventors of “Total Football.” Beating Schalke puts Ajax into their first semi-final since 1997, they’ll need to avoid the distraction as they contend with their place in the Eredivise as they are currently in second.
That rounds out the quarterfinal match ups, if you want to see the same old teams then watch the Champions League, but if you want something new then the Europa League is what you keep your eye on.