Barcelona are back under Xavi Hernandez, or so it would appear, and the Europa League could well be the first piece of silverware they win under the Spaniard.
They are three rounds and five matches away from winning Europe’s secondary competition, and given their rich vein of form, they could take some stopping.
A 13-game unbeaten has Barcelona deemed the bookmakers' favourites for the Europa League, but they will not get it all their own way, and while they plan to overcome Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals this Thursday and next, there are other teams that look capable of troubling them if they were to advance…
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RB Leipzig

Viewed as second favourites for Europa League glory, RB Leipzig appear to be peaking at the right time, and have climbed up from a lowly 12th in the Bundesliga to sit fourth heading into the final two months of the campaign.
Domenico Tedesco has overseen that charge after replacing now Leeds manager Jesse Marsch in December, and since the start of January they have lost just once in the league – a narrow 3-2 loss at Bayern Munich.
Most recently they embarrassed Borrusia Dortmund in what was the Signal Iduna Park’s first capacity crowd for more than two years. Over 80,000 fans watched Dortmund lose 4-1 to Leipzig, who warmed up for their quarter-final first leg against Atalanta in perfect style.
Konrad Laimer scored twice, with Christopher Nkunku and Dani Olmo also on target, and it is Nkunku in particular who stands out as Leipzig’s biggest threat, already boasting 27 goals and 17 assists this term.
They dropped down from the Champions League after finishing behind Manchester City and PSG, and after a play-off win over Real Sociedad, they received a bye against Spartak Moscow. Now they looked primed to make their mark in Europe.

Atalanta

To reach the semis, Leipzig must first overcome Atalanta, the surprise packages of the Champions League in 2020, who dropped down to the Europa League this season after finishing behind Manchester United and Villarreal in Group F.
Atalanta drew with and then narrowly lost to United, while in Serie A they sit seventh after an indifferent run of form.

Esultanza di gruppo al gol di Duvan Zapata in Atalanta-Manchester United - Champions League 2021/2022

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In the Europa League round of 16, they saw off Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 on aggregate, meaning Leipzig will know the tough task that awaits given Leverkusen are currently three points above them in the Bundesliga table.
It makes for a quarter-final that is too close to call, but the winners will then be expected to see off Braga or Rangers and reach the final, where they could meet Barcelona. Unless…

West Ham

It has been some continental tour for West Ham, who have reached their first European quarter-final since 1981.
Going strong in the Premier League, the Hammers look capable of going the distance in the Europa League, and were boosted by Jarrod Bowen’s goalscoring return in the weekend’s win over Everton.

West Ham Sevilla

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The 2-1 aggregate win over Sevilla in the last 16 saw them dismiss one experienced European side, and in Lyon they face another over the course of the next two Thursdays.
However, the Hammers will fancy their chances of making home advantage count in the first leg on Thursday, before heading to France to face a Lyon side that sit ninth in Ligue 1.
Again, it could be a close encounter, but West Ham have the quality to edge it - and potentially go the distance.
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