Juventus, Porto, Tottenham - Ranking the Europa League contenders

Goal examines the sides vying for Europe's silver-medal competition ahead of some mouthwatering last-16 ties on Thursday
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Current opponents: Fiorentina
Quite how Antonio Conte's side find themselves in the Europa League's final stages remains a bit of a mystery to most Juventus fans, but they now look set to throw everything at the chance of a final on home turf in May.

The Bianconeri's abysmal return in their Champions League group stage undermined what has otherwise been a near-perfect campaign, with 14 straight home wins and only one defeat on the road helping them open up a 14-point advantage at the top of Serie A. Few would argue that Juve are one of the clubs best placed to win the competition, but they need to finally replicate their best league form to do so.

Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo will be expected to drive the Old Lady on from midfield, while all eyes will be on top scorer Carlos Tevez as he looks to end a five-year goal drought in continental competition.

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Current opponents: Porto
Many onlookers believed that last summer's big-money departure of Edinson Cavani to Paris Saint-Germain would force a recalibration of targets for Napoli, but key signings have helped them jostle into a good position in both Serie A and the Europa League, while a Coppa Italia final appearance has also been secured.

With Gonzalo Higuain heading up a dangerous attacking unit containing the likes of Marek Hamsik, Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Goran Pandev and Dries Mertens, they remain a free-scoring outfit, but if anything was to blame for their narrow exit from the Champions League's veritable 'Group of Death' it was their lack of depth in the defensive unit. Their home form in particular could make them difficult to stop in this competition.

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Current opponents: Benfica
Following the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Tottenham's 2013-14 campaign was always likely to prove one of transition. The flurry of transfer activity in the summer has proven, in large parts, to destabilise a settled squad, and the subsequent sacking of Andre Villas-Boas has once again left the club without a clear identity or vision.

Emmanuel Adebayor's resurgence has papered over some of the cracks for Tim Sherwood's side, but heavy and humiliating defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea have left their top four aspirations in tatters.

In Benfica, Spurs are presented with their first European glamour tie of the season, but this game whets the appetite more than most. It was the Portuguese outfit who denied them a place in the 1962 European Cup final, and this fixture should inspire a squad capable of winning the Europa League, to finally take it seriously.

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Current opponents: Basel
Salzburg made the continent sit up and take notice with a comprehensive dismantling of Ajax in the previous round, and they will no doubt fancy their chances of condeming Basel to a similar fate.

After missing out on a Champions League playoff spot thanks to defeat to Fenerbahce, the Austrians soared through the Europa League group stage with six wins from six prior to their 6-1 aggregate thrashing of the Dutch champions in the next round.

Domestically, they are peerless this season, sitting 25 points clear at the top of the Austrian Bundesliga, having scored 88 goals in their 26 matches to date. Indeed, it is in attack where their pre-eminent talent lies, with former Barcelona B striker Jonatan Soriano having notched a remarkable 37 goals in 28 appearances, with Brazilian Alan not far behind on 29.

Salzburg are a young side, playing without pressure and flowing with confidence; don't write them off taking a few more impressive scalps should they overcome Basel.

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Current opponents: Tottenham
Being beaten by Chelsea in the Europa League final, finishing one point off top in the Primeira Division behind Porto and losing the Taca de Portugal to Vitoria Guimaraes made for a painful finish to 2012-13 for Benfica.

Instead of turning their frustration on coach Jorge Jesus in the summer, the Aguias admirably extended his deal at the Estadio da Luz and they've been well-rewarded: they sit top of the Portuguese league by seven points having only been beaten once.

Elimination from the Champions League on head-to-head record with Olympiakos was heartbreaking, but finishing third in their group returned them to the competition they thrived in last year. PAOK were swept away in a 4-0 aggregate victory by Jesus' men last month to line up a tasty last-16 clash with Tottenham.

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Dynamo Kiev
Current opponents: Ludogorets
Once perennial Champions League participants, Valencia may well need to win the Europa League to be competing in continental competition next season. Well documented financial problems mean los Che have regularly had to cash in on their saleable assets, and that has inevitably manifested itself on the pitch.

Their Liga form has been patchy all term but coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has inspired something of an upsurge since replacing Miroslav Djukic in December. An unlikely victory away to Barcelona was followed up with a 5-0 thrashing of fellow Europa League contenders Real Betis and a creditable two-legged victory over Dynamo Kiev in the round of 32.

Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets offer a presentable passage into the quarter-finals, and how far Valencia go may depend on whether their primary focus lies at home or abroad.

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Current opponents: Juventus
In many ways, Fiorentina's season so far has been a real case of what could have been, with injuries to key strikers undermining Vincenzo Montella's thrilling outfit. Stars such as Juan Cuadrado and Borja Valero have helped to make la Viola an all-action possession-based side, and the Tuscans have lit up both Serie A and the Europa League with their eye-catching performances.

While they have a Coppa Italia final to come and hold the honour of being the only team to beat Juventus in the league this season, they lost to the Italian champions in the return fixture last weekend and will have to overcome Antonio Conte's side over two legs if they are to reach the quarter-finals.

And that might prove tough without top-scorer Giuseppe Rossi, who has a long-term knee injury, although Mario Gomez is now back in action after his own lengthy lay-off.

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Current opponents: Napoli
Things were always going to be difficult for Porto after losing James Rodriguez and talisman Joao Moutinho in the summer transfer window, although holding onto Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando in January was a boost.

A 1-0 reverse against Estoril was the domestic low-point of their campaign and their first home defeat in five-and-a-half years ultimately contributed to coach Paulo Fonseca losing his job after just nine months in charge.

Porto, champions the last three seasons running, remain nine points off the pace of Benfica in the Portuguese Primeira Liga after losing four matches this season. In the previous three, they lost once. In Europe they were arguably the worst team to watch in the Champions League, winning just once in an ordinary-looking group before dropping into the Europa League.

The signing of prodigal son Ricardo Quaresma has given them a lift in the competition and he scored a beautiful goal to help carry them past Eintracht Frankfurt. They drew twice in that tie, however, and only squeaked through on away goals.

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Current opponents: Betis
Sevilla's major turnover of players in the summer has led to a campaign of inconsistency, with coach Unai Emery under a degree of pressure to turn things around despite the loss of talent such as Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Gary Medel.

Good performance has followed bad, and only the inspirational showings of Ivan Rakitic have propelled their displays above mediocrity. However, Sevilla's recent record against their Andalusian rivals has led to some famous victories, particularly at home. Given the relative fortunes of the clubs, Emery's future may hinge on emphatic qualification for the quarter-finals.

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Maccabi Tel Aviv
Current opponents: Red Bull Salzburg
Having made history by reaching their first European semi-final last season, Basel are eager to mount a challenge for the latter stages of the Europa League once more.

Although defeats to Schalke brought their Champions League campaign to a halt in the group stages, two wins over Chelsea stand amongst the finest in the club's history, and they breezed past Maccabi Tel-Aviv with minimal fuss in the previous round; what's more, just one domestic defeat all season has put them five points clear at the top of the Super League and they remain in the hunt for the Schweizer Pokal.

Basel's increasing standing on the continent has taken a knock with the departure of their finest talent: Mohamed Salah has gone, goalkeeper Yann Sommer - outstanding in the first leg in Israel - will join Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, and Fabian Schar continues to attract interest despite recent injury problems.

But a versatile midfield spine of Fabian Frei, Marcelo Diaz and Mohamed El Nenny, along with powerful striker Marco Streller (currently battling a minor injury) could be enough for the Swiss champions to challenge for the latter stages once more and further cement the burgeoning reputation of coach Murat Yakin.

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Rubin Kazan
Current opponents: Sevilla
Betis' season has, in the main, been one of the most miserable in the club's history. On their third coach of 2013-14 and eight points from safety at the bottom of La Liga, the Europa League has been a welcome distraction from what seemed like inevitable relegation.

However, there are brief signs of life: an impressive win in Kazan to reach the last 16 has been followed by a creditable draw in Villarreal and a precious victory over Getafe, to keep the most minute hopes of salvation alive. Sevilla trounced them 4-0 in November, but this is the derby - anything can happen.

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Current opponents: Viktoria Plzen
Olympique Lyonnais have fallen from their perch of France's untouchable champions and are no longer a team capable of going deep into the Champions League. With financial restrictions on the team heightened by the building of the club's new stadium, they have turned to former youth director Remi Garde to adopt a fresh approach for the Rhone outfit.

Driven largely by a fresh influx from the youth ranks, most notably playmaker Clement Grenier, this is a fresh and vibrant side - although having such a young team does have its drawbacks. Lyon can look naive at times, while match-winning consistency is not always apparent.

Nevertheless, they have been relatively robust and after a poor start to the season have re-established themselves in the domestic European race, with exciting prospects such as Alexandre Lacazette, Samuel Umtiti and Grenier at the vanguard.

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Slovan Liberec
Current opponents: Anzhi
It's been a bit of a rollercoaster campaign for AZ with the sudden departure of head coach Gertjan Verbeek earlier this season, yet they have been remarkably consistent in the Europa League. They remained unbeaten throughout the group stages before defeating Slovan Liberec in the round of 32 and will fancy their chances against Anzhi, too.

Dick Advocaat's men have been solid in defence with players such as Nick Viergever and Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, while Nemanja Gudelj has impressed in midfield since his arrival last summer. Up front, Aron Johannsson has made the AZ faithful forget all about last year's star striker Jozy Altidore with his fine goalscoring form.

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Current opponents: Valencia
Ludogorets might not have the history of traditional Bulgarian powerhouses such as Levski Sofia and CSKA Sofia, but the Razgrad side have become a force to be reckoned with in recent years. They are on course to win their third consecutive Bulgarian league title and have been in fine form in Europe.

Wins over Partizan, PSV and Lazio are proof that they are a team that should not be underestimated and they will be hopeful of springing another surprise against Valencia. They lack one goalscorer who stands out, but players such as Roman Bezjak, Marcelinho and Virgil Misidjan are all more than capable of finding the net on a regular basis.

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Shakhtar Donetsk
Current opponents: Lyon
The reigning Czech champions were comprehensively outclassed in a Champions League group containing Bayern Munich and Manchester City, but a two-legged victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League round of 32 suggests they could be dangerous dark horses.

Pavel Vrba departed as coach in December to take over the Czech national team, and incumbent Dusan Uhrin Jr. faces a tough task to emulate the man who led Plzen through the most successful period in their history.

They currently trail Sparta Prague by eight points at the top of the Czech Gambrinus Liga, and Europa duties may either prove a welcome distraction or an unwanted obstacle in their fight to regain domestic supremacy.

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Current opponents: AZ
Suleyman Kerimov's attempts to bankroll Anzhi Makhachkala into the elite of European football never looked like it would result in glory, and sure enough those dreams have turned to dust. After two years of opulent spending, Kerimov turned the tap on the cash flow last summer, with the likes of Willian, Samuel Eto'o and Lassana Diarra departing as hastily as they arrived.

The ensuing mass cull left Anzhi shorn of much quality, and the Dagestan-based outfit are facing relegation from the Russian Premier League after winning one game all campaign. Knocking out Genk in the round of 32 came as something of a surprise, and even if they do forge a way past AZ in the last 16, it's difficult to imagine their name being engraved on the trophy come May 14.