El Centrocampista

IT’S BACK! The Spanish assault on Europe resumes

europa

 

The knockout stages of the European competitions get underway tonight with Barcelona and Real Madrid strong contenders in the Champions League and confident of progressing to the next round in March.

However, although the Champions League is the more prestigious, it is the Europa League that could be seen as more intriguing as it becomes more competitive and exciting each season.

La Liga is well represented in the tournament with Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia all more than capable of winning the trophy – Atletico were the most recent Spanish team to lift the trophy in 2010 and under newly appointed Diego Simeone they look like a real threat.

Valencia will be looking to get their hands on their first major silverware in six yearsdespite the fact that they have well and truly established themselves as the third best team in La Liga. With third place looks secure for the third consecutive year, a trophy would be a great compliment to the continued regrowth of the club.

Despite having a slow start to 2012 they got back to winning ways against Sporting Gijon on the weekend and on Thursday they face a tricky tie against English side Stoke City. It will be a case of beauty and the beast at the Britannia stadium and Stoke will present a very physical test for Valencia, something which they would rarely face in La Liga – it will be interesting to see how they cope.

Athletic Bilbao have had an up and down season to say the least, with the poor domestic form at the start of the year contrasted vastly with their European performances, which saw them qualify as winners from a difficult Europa League group which included big spending PSG.

They face Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow on Thursday, in what could prove to be a very tough challenge. The Russian league finished in January, although this will change from next season, and so Lokomotiv may be a little match shy – despite having held training camps in the off season, the most reason in Portugal, nothing can compare to true competitive action.

However Russia is a tricky place to travel. Northern Spain has recently had some cold weather but that doesn’t come close to the conditions Athletic will face in Moscow. If the Basques can return from Russia with a draw then they would be big favourites to progress, but in what will be tough conditions they must ensure they are not on the end of a thumping.

Atletico Madrid meanwhile, are on the charge. Diego Simeone has united the Rojiblancos and they are surging up the La Liga table. Despite consecutive stalemates against Racing and Valencia, they are unbeaten in 2012 and have climbed to sixth place in the table, just one point from Champions League qualification.

They now face Lazio in one of the showpiece games of the round. The Italian giants have had a great season so far, and are on course to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in five years. The teams are of very similar quality and it will be and evenly matched affair. Away goals could come into play so a good result in Rome on Thursday is vital for Madrid.

There are a number of big clubs in this season’s Europa League, not least the two Manchester giants who dropped out of the Champions League, but the la liga sides all have a great chance of winning the tournament. Valencia, Atletico and Athletic are all in decent form going into their ties. They also all have the advantage of playing the home game second, which can make a big difference. It will be tough but the Spanish teams have the quality.

Don’t be too surprised if Spain pull off a clean sweep on the continent this year.




One Comment

  1. VCF91

    14 February, 2012 at 17:23

    I can’t wait for the game against Stoke on Thursday and think it will be a really good game. I think we will be too strong for them but a draw would be a good result to take back to the Mestalla.

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