Three American stars are in action while a fourth must watch from the bench as the quarterfinals of the Europa League kick off on Thursday afternoon.
All games kick simultaneously and the return leg takes place in one week’s time on April 5. FOX Soccer is the new home of the Europa League with live match coverage beginning next season. This year, every game can be seen on DirecTV and GolTV; live match coverage is available via MatchTrax and on our dedicated twitter feed @FoxSoccerTrax.
Here’s a quick look at who’s in action and what to expect from the day’s four matches:
Schalke 04 vs. Athletic Bilbao
Jermaine Jones and Schalke are on the rise but face a stiff home test in Athletic Bilbao. The slick, fast and buoyant Athletic won the hearts of fans the world over with their dominating display against Manchester United in the round of 16. It is clear that Markel Susaeta, Fernando Llorente and young Iker Muniain are stars to watch.
United were left chasing shadows by the relentlessly energetic, Marcelo Bielsa-coached side and Schalke will need a strong showing to get past them. Jones was 'MOTM' in their brilliant home rout of FC Twente, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will be the target man as always.
Sporting Lisbon vs. Metalist
Oguchi Onyewu must watch from the bench as he is out with a season-ending injury. But his Sporting Lisbon have a good chance to advance against Metalist, arguably the weakest side left in play.
The Ukranians struggled against Olympiakos, but finally burst free at the end to stun the Greeks on the away goals rule. Sparked by Sebastian Blanco and the elaborately coiffed Taison, Metalist scored two quick goals late to steal the tie and showed that they can keep with pace.
Sporting, on the other hand, did just enough to get by Manchester City, containing the Sky Blues well over the two legs. Rui Patricio has been superb in the net but the Portugese club will need more out of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Mati Fernandez.
AZ Alkmaar vs. Valencia
Jozy Altidore and Alkmaar face their toughest test in a Valencia side that simply torched PSV over the two legs. Daniel Parejo, Jeremy Mathieu, Roberto Soldado and Pablo Piatti all have shown the ability to take the reins for the Spaniards and Valencia have to feel they can knock off their second Dutch opponent in a row. AZ will be without Nick Viergever (suspended) but showed poise by holding off Udinese while snatching an unlikely goal in Italy. Rasmus Elm and Altidore are their danger men; Aussie Brett Holman also proved to be influential over the two legs.
Atletico Madrid vs. Hannover
Steve Cherundolo’s Hannover must figure out how to contain Falcao, Juanfran and Miranda, which is a tall order on any day. The Germans rolled past Belgians Standard Liege, in part thanks to two own goals from Kanu. Nonetheless, Hannover did look very dangerous out wide through Lars Stindl and Konstantin Rausch. Atletico were slick against Besiktas and will present the Germans a problem. Against Besiktas, Atletico showed that they can sweep aside teams that simply try to absorb and counter.