Europa League predictions

Liverpool and Shakhtar Donetsk face tough Spanish tests during Thursday’s second leg semi-finals of the Europa League.

The Reds go into the match at Anfield trailing 1-0 after Adrian Lopez’s injury-time winner at the El Madrigal last week gave the Yellow Submarine the upper hand in the tie.

Shakhtar, meanwhile, drew their first leg at home to two-time defending champions Sevilla 2-2 last week, with the Spanish side odds-on favourite to become the first team to reach the final on three successive occasions.

We take a closer look at the two semi-finals:

Liverpool v Villareal

The Reds face something of a juggling act in their match – they have to win the game but any goal they concede would increase the difficulty of the task they have two-fold.

If the score remains 0-0 with 20 minutes to go, for arguments sake, they still have every chance of getting the goal they need, but even if they led 2-0 in the same scenario, a solitary Villareal goal would still be enough to end Jurgen Klopp’s side’s challenge.

Like the quarter-final victory over Borussia Dortmund last month, Liverpool will once again look to the boisterous home crowd to lead them over the line. Unlike the win over Thomas Tuchel’s side, Thursday is likely to be a much different encounter, since Villareal play a far more compact game and will likely try and frustrate the hosts while keeping their eye on counterattacking opportunities.

The Reds have been boosted by the return to fitness of midfielder Emre Can, although the German international is unlikely to be included in the starting line-up after only returning to training this week.

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Daniel Sturridge is also expected to return to the starting line-up after the striker was left out in favour of the injured Divock Origi against Dortmund and Roberto Firmino in the first leg against Villareal.

The visitors, meanwhile, will look to former Manchester City reject Denis Suarez to lift them, since the winger is bound to get plenty of chances to start counterattacks when the Reds full-backs are advanced up the pitch.

Star striker Cedric Bakambu will be looking to add to his nine goals in the competition so far, only one behind Aritz Aduriz of Athletic Bilbao.

Prediction: Liverpool may well end up being victorious on the night, but whether or not they will be able to keep a clean sheet, or win by a two-goal advantage is a different story. Villareal to go through to their maiden European final by virtue of away goals.

Sevilla v Shakhtar Donetsk

The defending champions know that any victory or draw, assuming they keep Shakhtar to no more than one goal, would be enough to see them advance to their third successive final in the Europe’s second competition.

Statistically speaking, history is on Sevilla’s side as well – eight of the 10 previous occasions where the team drew 2-2 away in the first leg of a two-legged tie has seen them progress to the next round.

Unai Emery’s side has also won 11 of their 12 home matches in the Europa League this season, although they did lose their most recent encounter (1-2, v Athletic Bilbao).

Shakhtar, meanwhile, are unbeaten in seven matches away from home this season, but have only two wins to show for their 10 previous trips to Spain.

In the previous three encounters between these two, both sides have scored twice on each occasion, so all hope isn’t lost for the Ukrainian side.

They will, however, be without the services of Brazilian defender Marcio Azevedo, who remains out with a knee injury.

For Sevilla, Jose Antonio Reyes and Benoit Tremoulinas are both definitely out the matchday squad, while Timothee Kolodziejczak is a doubt following a blow to the head during their recent La Liga match against Espanyol.

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Shakhtar simply has to go out and go for goal, which may leave them vulnerable to counterattacks, with the pace of Kevin Gameiro, in particular, a threat for the visitors.

For the visitors, former Arsenal man Eduardo da Silva remain their most likely scorer, although Mircea Lucescu is far about the collective than the individual.

Prediction: There are likely to be plenty of goals in this one, although the pressure Shakhtar are under to make the running may ultimately prove too much for them. Sevilla to win by the odd goal.

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