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Europa League Preview: Chelsea, Arsenal take next steps

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The Europa League quarterfinals begin Thursday, with Arsenal home to Napoli in the most tantalizing of four solid match-ups.

[ MORE: UCL summations for each quarterfinalist ]

All of the first legs kick off at 3 p.m. ET

Arsenal v. Napoli

Alexandre Lacazette says the match-up with Serie A’s serial runners-up is a toss-up.

“Napoli has a big history like us. Now they are second in the table after Juventus and making a big difference with other important teams. They are playing very well. They have come from the Champions League but from a strong group with Liverpool. They were very competitive in this group. I know it’s going to be very difficult for us but we have confidence.”

Benfica v. Eintracht Frankfurt

If any of these match-ups are a true toss-up, it’s this one. And it comes right down to table standing, relative to league. Benfica is in a dogfight for first on the Portuguese table, while Eintracht Frankfurt is scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga’s Top Four.

Eintracht and Benfica both have brilliant attacks (and imagine if Benfica hadn’t loaned Raul Jimenez to Wolves). This one could be as good as it gets in the UEL.

Villarreal v. Valencia

Two sides who’ve met each other often and also both had success in Europe square off for a semifinal spot. Villarreal remains in a La Liga relegation place and this game comes three days before a six-pointer against Girona, while Valencia has a placement fight on its hands, too (albeit to re-qualify for the Europa League).

Slavia Prague v. Chelsea

Maurizio Sarri is not going to be sleeping on his Czech opponents, especially just three rounds from a Champions League place.

“They are very dangerous,” Sarri said. “They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla. We need to be very compact and to defend very well. Especially on crosses they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks. It won’t be easy for us.”

Bundesliga: Frankfurt crashing top-four party, dreaming of CL

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt could be playing in the Champions League next season.

Luka Jovic scored again and set up another goal as Frankfurt beat relegation-threatened Stuttgart 3-0 Sunday to move fourth in the Bundesliga.

Frankfurt, which is enjoying its best league campaign, took advantage of Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 3-1 defeat at Fortuna Duesseldorf on Saturday, to take the last qualification place for Europe’s top club competition with seven rounds remaining.

It was Frankfurt’s fifth successive win in the league and it stretched its unbeaten run to 14 games across all competitions. Adi Huetter’s team has also reached the quarterfinals of the Europa League, where it faces Benfica, in the Austrian coach’s debut season in charge.

Huetter arguably laid the groundwork for the outstanding season in Stuttgart on Nov. 2, when he opted to start forwards Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic together for the first time together. They have emerged among the league’s best with 16, 14 and eight goals, respectively.

But it was Filip Kostic who got Frankfurt off the mark in the home game against Stuttgart, reacting quickly to convert the rebound from a difficult angle after Jovic’s initial effort was deflected before the break.

Rebic sent Kostic through for his second on a counterattack in the 64th, before Jovic sealed it in the 84th with his 16th goal of the season.

Stuttgart remained in the relegation playoff place.

Europa League draw: Arsenal gets Napoli, Chelsea exhales

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Who’s got the best route to Baku?

The Europa League draw was held in the shadows of the UEFA Champions League draw on Friday, and it’s certainly not Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sporting KC advances in CCL ]

The Gunners will have to get past Napoli, and vice versa, if they want a chance at upending Chelsea and winning an automatic berth in the Champions League group stage.

Chelsea will meet Slavia Prague, easily the best draw of the bunch.

It’s an all-La Liga tie when Valencia meets Villarreal, while Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt have a huge chance to entertain.

Should Arsenal defeat Napoli, it would face the Valencia-Villarreal winner.

In some ways, this gives Maurizio Sarri‘s Chelsea the clearest route to Azerbaijan, though Eintracht Frankfurt can trouble any back line and Benfica has plenty of European experience.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

Europa League wrap: Valencia advance with dramatic stoppage time goal

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Valencia was on the verge of being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League in the round of 16 for the second consecutive year. Then Goncalo Guedes showed why he’s one of the top young attackers in Europe.

Deep in second half stoppage time, the Portuguese international used a shoulder faint to get past a defender in the box, took a touch, and then slotted home with his left foot to send the visiting Valencia squad into hysterics. The goal gave Valencia a 1-1 draw on the evening but a 3-2 aggregate win over FC Kuban Krasnodar. With the win, Valencia advances to the Europa League quarterfinals.

[READ: Inter Miami reveals temporary stadium plan]

Guedes’ strike followed an outstanding curling goal into the top corner by Krasnodar’s 19-year-old midfielder Magomed Suleymanov, which had put Krasnodar in position to advance to the next round.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, Inter Milan were bounced from the tournament by Eintracht Frankfurt. One of the top young attackers in Europe, Luka Jovic, scored the game’s only goal in the 6th minute. It’s an earlier-than-expected end to European competition for big spending Inter.

Here are the other finals from across Thursday’s Europa League action:

RB Salzburg 3-1 Napoli (3-4 agg.)

Benfica 3-0 AET Dinamo Zagreb (3-0 agg.)

Slavia Prague 4-3 AET Sevilla (6-5 agg.)

Villarreal 2-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (5-2 agg.)

Europa League, LIVE — Arsenal, Chelsea begin Last 16

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Two Premier League giants begin the next step Thursday in their quests to win the Europa League and ensure a spot in the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League Last 16 ]

Arsenal looks to bounce back from a disappointing North London Derby draw, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil will start in Rennes.

Arsenal lineup: Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Sokratis, Monreal, Xhaka, Torreira, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Iwobi, Aubameyang. Subs: Leno, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Suarez, Nketiah.

That kicks off at 12:55 p.m. ET, while fellow London club Chelsea is at home just over two hours later.

The Blues host Dynamo Kiev at 3 p.m. ET. Here is the Chelsea lineup: Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Christensen, Luiz, Zappacosta, Jorginho, Barkley, Pedro, Kovacic, Willian, Giroud.

Full schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Sevilla v. Slavia Prague
Dinamo Zagreb v. Benfica
Zenit Saint-Petersburg v. Villarreal
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Inter Milan
Rennes v. Arsenal

3 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Red Bull Salzburg
Chelsea v. Dynamo Kiev
Valencia v. FC Krasnodar