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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 22 October, 2014

Europa League preview: Bilbao aiming to continue dream run

Marcelo Bielsa’s men are enjoying a dream run in the UEFA competition, beating Lokomotiv Moscow and Manchester United to reach the final eight.

Marcelo Bielsa: on the brink.
Marcelo Bielsa: on the brink.
Image: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

ATHLETIC BILBOA ARE poised to reach the Europa League semi-finals, while domestic rivals Valencia and Atletico Madrid are in delicate ties.

Marcelo Bielsa’s men are enjoying a dream run in the UEFA competition, after they won five of six group games before beating Lokomotiv Moscow and Manchester United to reach the final eight.

Should they avoid a two-goal loss to Bundesliga side Schalke tonight, they will reach the final four and play the winner of Sporting Lisbon and Metalist Kharkiv. And they will not even be thinking about defeat given their form in Europe, after they put four goals past Schalke in Germany to take a commanding 4-2 advantage heading to the Estadio San Mames.

Their domestic form might have taken a hit at the expense of their European success — Bilbao are 11th, nine points behind fourth-placed Valencia — but Bielsa’s side are firing in the Europa League. Bilbao have lost four of their past five in La Liga, but have score nine goals in their past three European outings over Manchester United (twice) and Schalke.

It was their late run at Schalke that was most imposing — they trailed 2-1 with 17 minutes remaining before storming home to take a stranglehold on the tie. The Spanish league has a strong say in the Europa tournament, with Valencia needing to overcome a 2-1 deficit when they host AZ Alkmaar.

Unai Emery’s side have scored in each of their past four encounters, but their shonky defence has seen them fail to win all four. While a 1-0 win is all they need, it seems unlikely given they have kept just two clean sheets in their past 10 in all competitions.

AZ dropped off the top of the Eredivisie table on Sunday, but ended their 2-2 draw with Vitesse feeling somewhat confident after playing the last half-hour minus Australian midfielder Brett Holman after he was sent off. Atletico Madrid are the third La Liga side still alive in the Europa League, and they will take a 2-1 lead to their away leg at Hannover.

Madrid maintained their momentum after the first leg with a 3-0 win over Getafe, and are primed to try and emulate their success in the tournament when they won the inaugural edition in 2010. Hannover will also be confident after a league win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, as they hope to continue their unprecedented dream run in Europe.

In the only quarter-final not featuring a Spanish side, Ukrainian team Metalist Kharkiv will host Sporting Lisbon, attempting to turn around a 2-1 deficit. Lisbon have conceded just once in their past 270 minutes, but that came at the hands of Kharkiv, giving Myron Markevych’s men hope of continuing the club’s best-ever run in European competition.

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