It very much proved to be a case of home comforts in the Europa League on Thursday night. The quarter-finals began, and all four hosts ran out winners.
In recent years, the attempts of teams to make a charge for this trophy has stepped up. With a coveted Champions League place up for grabs, the tournament has become alluring. This was certainly showcased Thursday evening, by the quality of teams left amongst the fight.
Back with a bang!
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was taking no chances, the Frenchman fielded a strong side with the intention of getting a good result. Included in the line-up, was fellow Frenchman Alexander Lacazette. Recently, the striker marked his return from injury with a goal in the Premier League against Stoke City. He continued where he left off adding another two against Russian side CSKA Moscow, in what was an onslaught to be truthful. The Gunners set themselves nicely for the second leg. A 4-1 victory to ease the pressure on the under fire, Wenger. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who contributed with a goal in the last round against AC Milan, also got himself a brace. The man from Wales opened the score early in the 9th minute, only for his side to be pegged back six minutes later by a sublime freekick. Pick that one out! That did not affect the hosts though, who soon found their stride once more. First, playmaker Mesut Ozil was sent tumbling in the area. A clear-cut, penalty! Lacazette stepped up to the mark and finished from 12 yards for the second time since Sunday. Next came a sweet Ramsey finish. Breath-taking from the Gunners. The sensational Ozil provided a fourth for Lacazette, pulling the ball back from the by-line. It was job done at halftime, chances came and went in the second half. However, Wenger’s men settled for a commanding aggregate lead of 4-1 to take to Russia.
STUNNING GOAL, ARSENAL!!! 👏
Mesut Özil with one of the best assists you are ever likely to see 😲
Aaron Ramsey with the insane acrobatic finish! pic.twitter.com/fRxGYc20J8
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 5, 2018
Off the mark early
After a disappointing Champions League campaign, Atletico Madrid were dumped out at the group stages. The Spaniards dropped into the Europa League knockout stages and were immediately installed as favourites with the bookmakers. It’s easy to see why. 23 seconds into a quarter-final match. A goal to the good. An early error from former Liverpool man Sebastian Coates proved costly, Diego Costa collected a misplaced pass from the Uruguayan. He slipped it to his teammate Koke, who tucked it past the keeper Rui Patricio to give Atletico an early advantage. Sporting Libson had a great chance to equalise. 13 minutes in Bas Dost headed a brilliant chance wide of the post. Superb work from right back Cristiano Piccini to find his man. It was 2-0 at halftime after Madrid’s number seven Antoine Griezmann, pounced on another defensive error, this time from Jérémy Mathieu. Five minutes before half-time, Diego Simeone’s side showed no hesitation in punishing more slack defending. The second half was rather quiet, little to shout about. A glorious chance for Diego Costa missed, and a disallowed goal after an offside Kevin Gameiro set up Diego Godin. A comfortable victory in the end for the Spanish side, who remain on course for a fifth European semi-final in seven seasons.
An Italian job
Lazio and Salzburg put on an entertaining show in front of 42,000 fans inside the Stadio Olympico. A six-goal thriller, started early with a captain’s finish. Lazio’s Senad Lulic got on the end of a Dusan Basta cross to tap home. It was level at half-time, Salzburg levelling the match from the spot. Israeli striker Munas Dabbur went to ground after contact from Basta. Italian midfielder Marco Parolo restored the hosts lead four minutes after the break, only for Salzburg to comeback at them back once more through substitute Takumi Minamino’s second touch of the game. Was the sequence set? You score, we score. No. Two goals in two minutes soon put that theory to bed and give Lazio control in the tie. Another substitute impact, this time on Lazio’s behalf as Felipe Anderson smashed his effort past the keeper. Leaving him with no chance to save it. Marksman, Ciro Immobile got his customary goal to round off proceedings, two minutes later.
Ciro Immobile embraces his manager after a 4-2 win for Lazio (image via @The_Laziali)
German side RB Leipzig, welcomed French opposition Marseille. A game that is left finely poised for the return fixture in a week’s time. Another home victory but only the one goal in it. In injury time of the first half, a fast counter-attack, following good goalkeeping led to Timo Werner having a chance to score. He did just that. The highly sought-after young forward secured an early lead, calmly. This goal would have really hurt Marseille, as moments beforehand the side from France’s Ligue 1, rattled the bar. However, it wasn’t to be. Both sides had chances in the game, but Marseille just couldn’t seem to find the same composure shown by Leipzig’s front man. It so easily could have been level shortly after the break. That illusive away goal just wouldn’t come. First, Lucas Ocampos couldn’t add the finishing touch when Andre Anguissa’s instinctive back-heel found him. Then Dimitri Payet wasted an opportunity, having cut into the penalty area. Midfielder Emil Forsberg was outstanding on the night for Leipzig. As was the goal scorer Werner, a constant threat. Rudi Garci will definitely be looking for a response from his Marseille side when they turn hosts. His side weren’t quite at the races in front of the net but left themselves in a respectable position. By only conceding the solitary goal.
Quarter-final round-up in full:
Arsenal 4-1 CSKA Moscow
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Sporting Lisbon
Lazio 4-2 Salzburg
RB Leipzig 1-0 Marseille
Another set of European quarter-final first leg games are over. Who has impressed you?