5️⃣ things to look out for in Thursday’s European action

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Things are getting very serious in the Europa League and Europa Conference League with the quarter-finals getting under way tonight, Reelradio.com.ng reports.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on.

Klopp’s ‘open bill’

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With the Premier League title race about as tight as they come, Liverpool won’t want too many distractions between now and the end of the season.

Yet at the same time, the romantic prospect of manager Jürgen Klopp signing off with not just the league title but also the only major trophy he is yet to win is one they will want to keep alive.

Klopp described the Europa League as “a bit of an open bill” in his pre-match press conference, and the man standing between him and the cash register in the quarter-final will be Gian Piero Gasperini.

Gasperini was appointed by Atalanta 12 months after Klopp arrived at Anfield and has had a similar impact on the Bergamo club as his German counterpart has had on Merseyside, albeit without the silverware to show for it.

The two managers deploy a similar brand of high-octane, attacking football too, and this has the potential to be a really entertaining tie, especially if Atalanta can avoid being blown away at Anfield in the first leg this week.

Benfica or Marseille await the winner of this tie in the semi-final.

Can Leverkusen’s unblemished record withstand a Hammering?

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Bayer Leverkusen could make history this weekend, with just one more win over Werder Bremen standing between them and a first ever Bundesliga title in their 119-year history.

Xabi Alonso’s side also remain unbeaten in all competitions this season, and will be hoping to end the campaign with three trophies under their belt, having also made it to the DFB Pokal final.

But Europa League quarter-final opponents West Ham will be trying to jam a stick in Die Werkself’s wheels when the two sides meet at the BayArena in Thursday’s first leg.

The Hammers haven’t had an ideal season by any means, yet David Moyes’ side are knocking on the door of the Premier League’s top six again, and have followed up last year’s Conference League triumph with a strong showing in Europe again this year.

Their 5-0 thrashing of Freiburg in the last round should act as a warning to Leverkusen, who diced with defeat in both legs of their last 16 tie with Qarabağ.

All unbeaten runs must come to an end.

La Dolce Vita

We have seen some wonderful match-ups between AC Milan and AS Roma down the years, and this all-Italian Europa League quarter-final promises us a couple more.

But this fixture has not been particularly kind to Roma in recent times, with the Giallorossi winning just one of their last 13 meetings with Milan, and their most recent defeat being José Mourinho’s last match in charge of the club back in January.

However, former captain Daniele De Rossi’s installation as coach has sparked a change in fortunes, and his side go into Thursday’s game on the back of a 1-0 win over fierce rivals Lazio at the weekend.

With Inter having the Serie A title effectively wrapped up, and Juventus and Lazio set to contest the Coppa Italia final, this is the last chance of silverware for Milan and Roma this season, and they’ll be going hell for leather to get it.

Elsewhere, the other Italian side still in European competition this season are Fiorentina, who will be hoping to navigate a tricky tie with Viktoria Plzeň en route to a second successive Conference League final.

Emery’s time to shine

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There was a time not too long ago when Aston Villa were being tipped as an outside bet for the Premier League title this season, but one win in their last five league matches has seen Unai Emery’s side drop out of the reckoning.

Winning the title was never the Spaniard’s brief in his first full season in charge at Villa Park though, and the way his side have competed for a place in next season’s Champions League has been mightily impressive all the same.

If Emery can also work his magic in the Conference League this season and end the Villans’ 28-year wait for a trophy, he will make himself an instant club legend, and add another European medal to the five Europa Leagues he has already won.

To do so, Villa will first have to overcome a LOSC Lille side who have never appeared in the quarter-finals of a UEFA competition before and come into Thursday’s encounter on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

Will Emery’s European pedigree prevail? Or will Paulo Fonseca’s enthusiastic newcomers spring a surprise?

Auba but not out

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With his ignominious exit from Arsenal followed by a hugely underwhelming spell at Chelsea, you could be forgiven for thinking Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s career had fizzled out.

But the 34-year-old’s move to Marseille last summer has given him a new lease of life.

The Gabon international has netted 11 times in Ligue 1 this term, and leads the way as the Europa League’s top scorer with nine goals in nine games.

OM have faltered on the domestic front this season but they still have hope of glory in Europe, and they will need Aubameyang to deliver the goods in their quarter-final tie with Benfica if they are to book a potential date with Liverpool or Atalanta in the semis.

It might just be the man himself’s last chance to lift a European trophy in his career.

Which European fixture are you most excited about on Thursday? Let us know in the comments!

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