The quarter-finalists of the Europa League have been confirmed after another action-packed night in the last-16 second legs.
In the evening’s three earlier kick offs, Chelsea beat Dynamo Kyiv 5-0, Valencia snuck past Krasnodar with a dramatic 1-1 draw and Napoli advanced despite losing 3-1 on the night to Red Bull Salzburg.
Then, Arsenal overcame their first-leg deficit to get past Rennes, Villarreal saw off Zenit, Eintracht Frankfurt upset Inter and Benfica and Slavia Prague beat Dinamo Zagreb and Sevilla respectively after extra-time.
But what did we learn from the last-16 ties?
1. Villarreal’s unlikely journey continues
What a remarkably bizarre season Villarreal are having. The Yellow Submarines are currently embroiled in a heated relegation battle – just one point clear of the bottom three – a fall from grace having finished fifth last season.
But, at the same time, Villarreal are just four games away from playing for a place in next season’s Champions League and a chance of being the first second-tier side in the competition’s history.
Their quarter-final place came at the expense of Russian side Zenit, who put on a valiant performance across two legs but were frustrated by their own struggles in front of goal.
Taking a 3-1 away win into the second leg, Villarreal extended their advantage after 30 minutes through Gerard Moreno and put the tie beyond reasonable doubt shortly after half-time with Carlos Bacca doubling the lead. Zenit did pull one back but it would not be enough with the damage already done.
The Yellow Submarines may be joined in the quarter-final draw by some tough opponents but, as they have shown already, anything is possible in the Europa League.
2. Napoli squeeze into first European quarter-final in four years
Red Bull Salzburg were semi-finalists in the Europa League last season and would have fancied themselves to do similar damage this year. That was until they met Napoli.
1 – @sscnapoli have reached the Quarter final in a European competition for the first time since Europa League 2014/15 under Rafael Benítez, in that occasion they were eliminated in the Semifinal. Return.#SalisburgoNapoli #UEL
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 14, 2019
The Austrian already had a mountain to climb after a 3-0 first leg defeat in Naples but things got worse early on with Arkadiusz Milik scoring a vital away goal after 14 minutes.
It meant Salzburg would have to score five goals to progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League for just the third time in the club’s history. But, despite Napoli’s disjointed performance, Salzburg could only manage three goals in reply – sending the Italian side into the quarter-finals.
Though Carlo Ancelotti will not be happy with his side’s performance, the Italian has overseen a first quarter-final in European competition for Napoli since 2014/15. Then, Rafael Benitez led the club to the semi-finals where they were beaten by runners-up Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
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3. Frankfurt fly the flag for Germany
A Champions League superpower in recent times, Germany have just one team remaining in the quarter-finals of European competitions this season.
With Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Dortmund all being knocked out of the Champions League, the responsibility to fly the German flag in Europe has fallen on Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League.
Eintracht Frankfurt are the only Bundesliga side to reach the last eight of either European competition this season.
A win at San Siro a special way to confirm a quarter-final place. 🦅 pic.twitter.com/xd635P4Qmo
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 14, 2019
The Eagles had a daunting task on their hands in keeping Germany’s hopes of glory alive, with an away tie against Inter Milan at the San Siro, having held the Italians to a goalless draw a week earlier.
But Frankfurt got off to the perfect start, taking the lead after just six minutes through one of Europe’s most-wanted talents Luka Jovic. The Serbian capitalised on a poor moment from Stefan de Vrij and coolly lifted the ball over Samir Handanovic for his seventh Europa League goal this season.
With Inter now needing two goals to go through, Frankfurt could have been forgiven for sitting back from the seventh minute but they continued to push in search of a second goal, smelling the blood of their Italian opponents – going close on more than one occasion.
Though the scoreline was narrow, Frankfurt were fully deserving on their win and it continues their fine season under Adi Hutter who has continued Niko Kovac’s good work.
4. Slavia Prague shock three-time winners to end Sevilla’s away run
Though many will look to the big-margin wins for Chelsea and Arsenal as the ties of the Europa League last-16, but there was drama – and goals – in abundance in the Czech Republic.
The first leg between Slavia Prague and Sevilla ended 2-2 leaving the game fairly evenly-poised despite, the former’s two away goals in hand. Slavia Prague looked to be taking control of the tie when Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui put them 3-2 up on aggregate, meaning the away side had to score two more goals to go through.
119′ | GOOAOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLL MICK!!!
Slavia 4:3 Sevilla
YEEES GET IN! pic.twitter.com/K8ZExg26fb
— SK Slavia Prague EN (@slavia_eng) March 14, 2019
Sevilla levelled just before half-time through Wissam Ben Yedder, his eighth goal in the Europa League this season – with only Olivier Giroud managing more. They were immediately pegged back after the break, with Tomas Soucek restoring the home side’s lead, but it would last just seven minutes as Munir equalised with a spectacular volley, taking the game to extra-time.
That’s when Sevilla looked to take control, scoring eight minutes in through Franco Vazquez after a good cross from Quincy Promes, now meaning Slavia Prague had to score twice to go through and wiping out the possibility of penalties.
But there was yet another twist in extra time with Mick van Buren equalising and Simon Kjaer scoring an own goal with a minute left to send Slavia through.
As well as bringing a first away defeat since 2016 for Sevilla in the knockout stages of the Europa League, Slavia Prague qualified for the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 2000 when it was the UEFA Cup.
5. Inter pay the ultimate price for poor squad depth
Having failed to score an away goal of their own in the first leg, which included Marcelo Brozovic missing a penalty, Inter were up against it when Jovic put Frankfurt ahead after just six minutes.
The Nerazurri were already facing a tough battle without Lautaro Martinez and Kwadwo Asamoah, who were suspended, as well as Mauro Icardi, Radja Nainggolan, Joao Mario, Roberto Gagliardini and Dalbert who were all either injured or cup-tied.
This meant that when Inter were chasing two goals with the clock ticking down, Luciano Spalletti had to rely on two teenage debutants. The first to come on was Sebastiano Esposito who, at 16 years and 255 days, is the second youngest Italian player in Europa League history after Palermo’s Gabriele Zerbo (16 years, 213 days).
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 14, 2019
Then came the slightly older Davide Merola, aged 18, but neither could bring life into Inter’s poor attack and the Italian side went out without truly troubling their opponents.
Fortunately for Inter, they have an easy game at the weekend to take any frustration out. No, wait. They have the small matter of the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.