And then there were four. The Europa League has thrown up some stunning clashes so far as 44 teams have crashed out of the tournament since the group stage started way back in September 2015.
As is always the case in European competition, Spain is well represented in the tournament with Villarreal taking on Liverpool in the first semi-final and Sevilla going up against Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk in the second.
Shakhtar 31/20 | Draw 9/4 | Sevilla 16/10
Our first port of call will be the Donbass Arena where Shakhtar go head to head with Sevilla. The Ukrainian juggernauts had little trouble dispatching Braga in the quarter-finals, winning 6-1 on aggregate. The Ukrainians are undefeated in seven games at the time of writing, scoring an insane 24 goals while only conceding five. Keep in mind that the Ukrainian Premier League isn’t the most competitive in the world, however, their goal scoring prowess can’t be ignored.
Marlos and Eduardo have been the focal point of Donetsk’s attack in the league thus far scoring seven and 10 goals respectively. Their numbers have been just as impressive in the Europa League this season. Eduardo and Viktor Kovalenko each have two goals in the competition while there are a whole host of other players sitting on a solitary strike. It is worth remembering too, that Shakhtar only joined the competition following their elimination from the Champions League so they’ve played fewer games than many of the than the likes of Liverpool and Villarreal.
Shakhtar have always prided themselves on playing an attacking brand of football, and Thursday’s encounter with Sevilla should be no different. They’ve bagged an incredible 68 goals in just 22 league games this season and will look to get at Sevilla’s somewhat porous defence. The movement provided up front by the likes of Eduardo, Bernard and Facundo Ferreyra will be key in getting at a defence that has conceded 40 league goals in just 33 matches this season.
Where Sevilla have struggled in defence this season, they’ve had very little trouble banging in the goals. As much has been evident throughout the Europa League and indeed the Spanish Primera Liga this season.
This is hardly surprising, especially considering the talent that Unai Emery has at his disposal. The likes of Kevin Gameiro, Fernando Llorente and Yevhen Konoplyanka are all more than capable of hurting even the most watertight defences around Europe. Gameiro, in particular, has been excellent in this competition. Having only played in six games, the French forward has showed everyone why Europe’s top clubs are so interested in his signature by banging in four goals as well as claiming as assist in the 413 minutes he’s played since the competition so far.
All in all, this should be a fantastic encounter over two legs with both sides not afraid of showing off their attacking nous. There isn’t much to pick between them either, so calling a winner was always going to be difficult. The Ukrainians always seem to turn it on in front of their partisan supporters though. As such, I’m backing Shakhtar to win + both teams to score at 4/1 – you should too!
Villarreal 14/10 | Draw 22/10 | Liverpool 19/10
This tie looks as though it has all the makings of a classic – although it will struggle to live up to the romance and fanfare provided by Liverpool’s 4-3 triumph over Borussia Dortmund in front the Anfield faithful in the quarter-finals.
The Spanish side will be in buoyant mood heading into this tie. With their qualification to the Champions League all but secure, the Yellow Submarine and its band of merry mariners can afford to focus most of their attention on this competition.
If the Spanish side are to claim victory over their more illustrious English opponents, they will need the likes of Cedric Bakambu and Denis Suarez and Roberto Soldado to get at a Liverpool defence that has looked anything but solid this season. If Bakambu can get on the end of Suarez’s balls from deeper areas in the midfield, the DRC native will use his guile and trickery to get at the likes of Dejan Loveren and Mamadou Sakho.
Another area in which they can hurt Jurgen Klopp’s men is at the set piece. We all know Simon Mignolet is a bit of a flapper and Loveren and Sakho – for all of their aerial prowess – haven’t covered themselves in glory when it’s come to defending free-kicks and corners.
While the Reds do have their problems, they’ll be firmly of the opinion that they can win this tournament. Klopp’s men have already dumped the likes of Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund out of the competition, and are priced up as the favourites (15/10) to win the competition outright.
The Merseysiders have definitely turned a corner since Klopp took over from Brendan Rogers in 2015. The team are playing with far more belief as much is evident with the likes of Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, Loveren and even Alberto Moreno looking like new players altogether. The charismatic German even seems to have brought Daniel Sturridge back on side after what appeared to be a brief falling out.
One thing is for sure, the Reds are now all pulling in the same direction under a world class manager. They’ll be confident enough heading to the Estadio El Madrigal, and if they can come away from the east coast of Spain with a scoring draw; Klopp knows that his men will have the beating of the Spaniards at Anfield. Back the draw here at 22/10.