Europa League: Spanish armada eyeing quarters berth

Defending champion Sevilla, Villareal and Athletic Bilbao are all in pole position to secure a place in the last eight of the Europa League.

Athletic Bilbao's Aritz Aduriz fights for the ball with Valencia goalkeeper Matt Ryan during the first leg of a Europa League match.   -  AP

Four Spanish football clubs will look to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday night but it's only possible for three to go through on a night that could be decisive for Valencia head coach Gary Neville.

Valencia needs to overturn a 0-1 first leg deficit at home against Athletic Bilbao and Neville is under huge pressure after a run of three straight defeats, which included the game in Bilbao and last Sunday's La Liga defeat to local rival Levante, reports Xinhua.

Valencia was dreadful in that game and Neville said there were "no excuses" for the performance. Now with the city in the middle of its traditional 'Fallas' fiestas and a packed house at the Mestalla, the issue is whether he can inspire a turnaround knowing anything other than a win could see him facing the sack.

Athletic travels to Valencia after five straight wins and was able to rest key players such as Oscar de Marcos, Benat, Xabi Etxieta and top scorer Aritz Aduriz for its win at home to Betis last Sunday.

Reigning Europa League champion Sevilla is aiming to make its home form count when it entertains Basel, which will be the host for this season's final. A 0-0 draw in the first leg gives Sevilla the advantage, but coach Unai Emery knows that the lack of an away goal can be a handicap in Europe.

Winger Yevhen Konoplyanka is injured after damaging a hamstring during Sunday's excellent 4-2 win at home against Villarreal.

Villarreal is also favourite to reach the last eight as coach Marcelino Garcia takes his side to defend a 2-0 first leg lead away against Bayer Leverkusen. Two goals from Cedric Bakambu, who also scored his side's goals against Sevilla, was the hero a week ago and a further goal on Thursday could all but assure his side goes into the hat for Friday's quarter-final draw.

Last 16 Fixtures

Valencia vs Athletic Bilbao, Bayer Leverkusen vs Villareal, Sevilla vs FC Basel, Lazio vs Sparta Prague, Braga vs Fenerbahce, Anderlecht vs Shakhtar Donetsk.