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UEL preview: Leverkusen, Milan chase history; Liverpool's emotional run-in

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The Europa League has reached the quarterfinals, with Bayer Leverkusen and Liverpool looking the teams to beat.

Here are the narratives at play ahead of the first-leg matches on Thursday:

Still unbeaten

It's 41 games and counting for Bayer Leverkusen and Xabi Alonso.

In what is turning into an historic season, the German club has yet to be beaten in any game in any competition and takes that undefeated streak into a home game against West Ham.

Leverkusen is on course to clinch its first ever Bundesliga title this weekend, with the team having built a remarkable 16-point lead. The trophy will be theirs if second-place Bayern Munich loses to Koln on Saturday, otherwise on Sunday if Leverkusen wins at home to Werder Bremen.

Alonso's team is also in the German Cup final, so a treble of trophies is on.

West Ham is having another impressive season in Europe after winning the Europa Conference League last season.

Fairytale ending

Another team bidding for a treble is Liverpool, in manager Jurgen Klopp's final season in charge.

The English League Cup has already been secured and the team is embroiled in a tight Premier League title race with Arsenal and Manchester City, with only one point separating the three clubs with seven games left.

If Liverpool reaches the Europa League final, it would be Klopp's final game in charge after nearly nine years — ensuring fans of the Reds would make the short trip to Dublin in their thousands in the hope of a fairytale ending for the German coach.

Next up for Liverpool is Atalanta. They met in the group stage of the 2020-21 Champions League, with each team winning away.

Completing the set

Lifting the Europa League would see AC Milan complete the set in continental soccer.

Milan, a seven-time winner of the European Cup or Champions League, has also won the discontinued European Cup Winners’ Cup twice, as well as the UEFA Super Cup a record five times but has never triumphed in the Europa League, or the UEFA Cup as it was previously known.

The Rossoneri have never even reached the final — something Roma, its opponent in the quarterfinals, achieved twice, losing both in 1991 and last year.

Milan is no stranger to all-Italian knockout matches, having beaten Napoli in the Champions League quarterfinals last season before losing to Inter Milan in the semifinals.


Marseille's resurgence under coach Jean-Louis Gasset has ground to a halt. After winning his first five games in charge, with 18 goals scored during that run, Gasset's side has lost the past four matches. Marseille's bad habits have returned, with defensive lapses, sloppy play in midfield and a lack of cutting edge up front all too apparent recently. At least Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still scoring, though, and he has 23 goals this season. The former Arsenal and Barcelona striker has been particularly strong in Europe this campaign with 11 goals in 11 games. But Gasset also needs someone else to step up in attack against Benfica.

Conference League

It's also the quarterfinals of the Conference League on Thursday, with Aston Villa hosting Lille in the standout matchup.

Villa is managed by Unai Emery, whose pedigree in Europa is well-known after winning the Europa League on four occasions — three times with Sevilla and once with Villarreal — and also getting to the final with Arsenal.

Also, Olympiakos is at home to Fenerbahce, Fiorentina heads to Viktoria Plzen and Club Brugge and PAOK. Olympiakos and PAOK are hoping to reach a home final in Athens.


AP Sports Writers Daniella Matar in Milan and Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed to this story.


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