Juventus will be looking to take another step towards a Europa League final in their own stadium when they entertain French club Lyon in the second leg of their quarter-final on Thursday.
The Serie A champions hold a 1-0 lead from the first leg at the Stade de Gerland last Thursday thanks to a late Leonardo Bonucci goal and home advantage means Antonio Conte’s side are in a very strong position to progress.
Indeed, the Bianconeri have not lost at their own Juventus Stadium in exactly a year since going down 2-0 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season.
Given that they are eight points clear at the top of Serie A and determined to make it to a Europa League final which they will host, Juve should have enough to see off a Lyon side who are struggling with injuries at this crucial stage of the season.
“I am hoping for a full house on Thursday. We need our fans to get behind us like they do on the big occasions and to help us as we enter the final straight this season,” said Conte after Monday’s 2-0 win against Livorno in Serie A.
“It would be great to reach the final four, for Italian football as well as for Juve. Lyon have some good players on the counter, so the tie is far from over.”
The French club will be missing the creative talents of Clement Grenier and Yoann Gourcuff as well as Portugal right-back Miguel Lopes and midfielder Gueida Fofana, but Bafetimbi Gomis will provide a threat after scoring his 100th goal in France’s top flight at the weekend.
Benfica also have plenty of motivation to make it to the final on May 14 after losing 2-1 to Chelsea in last season’s showpiece in Amsterdam.
The Portuguese giants are on the brink of winning their domestic league and also take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their quarter-final tie against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar at the Estadio da Luz.
Jorge Jesus’s side have been beaten just once in their last 31 matches in all competitions and are still on course to win a treble with the second leg of their Portuguese Cup semi-final against Porto also to come, but the coach has made clear where his priorities lie.
“We have the ambition to win every competition but the one we want to win the most is the league. Against AZ Alkmaar I am not going to do anything that will put the league in danger,” said Jesus.
Portuguese clubs have done well in Europe’s second-tier competition in recent seasons and Porto remain in contention to win the trophy as well as they take a 1-0 lead to Spain for the second leg of their tie against Sevilla.
Porto, whose first-leg advantage was given to them by Eliaquim Mangala’s goal, won the 2003 UEFA Cup by beating Celtic in a final played in Seville’s La Cartuja stadium, while they also won the Europa League in 2011.
This season has been difficult for them as they languish a distant third in their domestic league, but coach Luis Castro remains hopeful that European success can rescue their campaign, even if influential duo Jackson Martinez and Fernando are suspended here.
However, Sevilla midfielder Vicente Iborra warned: “They are not just about Jackson Martinez. They have (Ricardo) Quaresma, (Silvestre) Varela, and they are very strong at the back. It is going to be very difficult.”
The task for Spain’s other survivors promises to be even tougher though, as Valencia attempt to overcome a 3-0 first-leg deficit against Swiss side Basel, who are looking to reach the last four for the second season running.