Chelsea may be third in the Premier League, but their difficult run-in means the Europa League is still their best avenue into next season’s Champions League. The Blues have a favourable draw in Europe and their path to the final is a relatively straightforward one.
Slavia Prague were impressive in their 6-5 aggregate win over serial Europa League winners Sevilla in the last round, but Sevilla are not the team they once were. The Czechs have also been relentless in their domestic First League of late and seem set to end the season as champions.
However, they come up against a Chelsea team that has been virtually flawless throughout their Europa League campaign. They have won nine of their 10 games in Europe this season; their only draw coming against Hungarian side Vidi in their last group game when they were already assured of top spot.
They were particularly impressive in their 8-0 demolition of Dynamo Kiev in the round of 16, especially in their emphatic 5-0 win over the Ukrainian side in Kiev. A similar result in Prague is highly unlikely given Slavia Prague’s recent results, but Chelsea should do enough to all but seal their progression.
Pick: Chelsea to win @ 8/13
Arsenal could hardly have had worse preparation for this quarter-final tie than the limp 1-0 defeat to Everton on Sunday. The Gunners were second-best in every department and were fortunate to lose by just the one goal. Having said that, Arsenal’s home form and Arsenal’s away form are about as different as Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams.
Home wins have bailed Arsenal out both domestically and on a European front all season and it would be a very mediocre season, even by Arsenal’s standards, if they weren’t so exceptional at the Emirates.
A run of 10 consecutive league wins at home has kept them in the race for the top four, while wins over BATE Borisov and Rennes saved their blushes in the knockout stages of the Europa League following embarrassing away defeats.
Their opponents Napoli represent by far the most difficult challenge left in the competition, apart from Chelsea, but Napoli have been massively underwhelming this season. They might sit second in Serie A, but sit a massive 20 points off Champions elect Juventus. They failed to make it out of their Champions League group, albeit it was a group of death featuring Liverpool and PSG, and they were also dumped out of the Coppa Italia at the quarter-final stage.
Arsenal will need to take some sort of lead to Naples if they are to progress, and with such formidable home form they should do so.
Pick: Arsenal to win @ 13/10
Villarreal’s European form is completely at odds with their league form. The Spanish side find themselves in the quarter-finals of the Europa League at the same time they find themselves in the bottom three of La Liga.
At some point, league form has to take precedence over European form and surely that will be the priority between now and the end of the season. In the highly unlikely event that Villarreal were to win the Europa League, what is the point of their participation in next season’s Champions League if they are not even in Spain’s top tier.
Villarreal did score four passed Barcelona in that thrilling 4-4 draw last week but have since lost 2-1 to Real Betis after Santi Cazorla missed a late penalty. Cazorla was inconsolable after the loss and it will take a monumental effort from Villarreal to pick themselves back up.
Valencia have been decent of late, winning six of their last nine games, and they harbour a realistic hope of securing Champions League football again next season. They should have enough to come out on top in this all Spanish tie. At odds against, they are a very attractive price.
Pick: Valencia to win @ 6/4