Liverpool and Leverkusen kept on track to meet in Europa League final

Liverpool and Leverkusen kept on track to meet in Europa League final

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen were kept apart in the quarterfinals draw for the Europa League on Friday and can meet only if they reach a final that would be heavy with storylines for their standout coaches.

Liverpool were paired with Atalanta in the quarterfinals with the first leg at Anfield on April 11. The return is one week later in Bergamo, where Liverpool won 5-0 in a Champions League game three seasons ago.

Bundesliga leader Leverkusen — coached by former Liverpool star Xabi Alonso and still unbeaten in all competitions in his stunning, first full season — have to travel to England as they were drawn against West Ham with the first leg in London.

A meeting between Liverpool and Leverkusen would take on added meaning after coach Jürgen Klopp announced in January that he will leave at the end of the season the club he has revived since 2015.

Alonso is widely seen as a leading candidate to replace Klopp and return to Liverpool where, as a creative midfielder, he helped win the “Miracle of Istanbul” final of the Champions League in 2005.

Also on Friday, AC Milan — the team Liverpool and Alonso beat in Istanbul — was paired with Roma in an all-Italian clash, and Benfica were drawn to face Marseille in a meeting of former European champions.

In the semifinals, Benfica or Marseille will host the first leg against Liverpool or Atlanta.

Milan or Roma will be at home first against Leverkusen or West Ham.

Leverkusen extended their remarkable unbeaten run to 37 games on Thursday to eliminate Qarabag of Azerbaijan in the round of 16. Two stoppage-time goals by Patrick Schick overturned the 10-man visitors’ 2-1 lead on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate score, to a 3-2 win and 5-4 advantage.

At the same time, Liverpool were routing Sparta Prague 6-1 for an aggregate score of 11-2. Liverpool’s 11 goals tied a record for the Europa League — matching Lyon’s tally over two legs against AZ Alkmaar in 2017 — since the competition was rebranded 15 years ago.

The Europa League lineup features four former European champions and the winners of the two Europa Conference Leagues — Roma and West Ham — since the third-tier competition was launched in 2021.

The final is on May 22 in Dublin.

In the Europa Conference League draw, Aston Villa were paired with Lille in the quarterfinals and Viktoria Plzen will host the first leg against Fiorentina, which were the beaten finalist last season against West Ham.

The two Greek teams avoided each other with PAOK playing away first at Club Brugge and Olympiakos hosting the first leg against Fenerbahce.

While Olympiakos fans are sure to create a raucous atmosphere for the visit of a Turkish team to Athens, UEFA banned Fenerbahce from selling tickets to their fans for the game in a disciplinary ruling announced on Friday.

Fenerbahce also were fined 80,000 euros ($87,000) for their fans lighting and throwing fireworks at previous games.

The Europa Conference League final is on May 29, also in Athens at AEK’s stadium.

  • PublishedMarch 15, 2024

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