Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal believes the stakes involved in his team’s Europa League last-16 tie with Liverpool will make the occasion bigger than ever.
United on Thursday visit Anfield in the first leg hoping to extend their run of having won their past four fixtures against their great rivals.
Both teams know the competition represents not only their best chance of winning a trophy in what have otherwise so far been disappointing seasons, but perhaps their best chance of reaching next season’s Champions League.
“You have to win – there is no difference (between a league and a cup game),” said Van Gaal, according to Uefa.com. “United and Liverpool is always a big game. It’s historical and even bigger now because both teams are fighting for a Champions League place.
“The fans of Manchester United are appreciating (the Europa League). How many fans do I think we’ll have against Liverpool [for the second leg at Old Trafford]? Maybe 75,000.
“I think Anfield is also sold out, so that’s what I have to say – it’s very important for both teams and the fans want to see the duel between us.”
Borussia Dortmund host Tottenham, pitting the second-placed team in the Bundesliga against second place in the Premier League. Dortmund are in fine fettle, currently on a run of 11 games without defeat, which includes nine victories.
Each side is admired for their intensity and the vast improvement they have displayed this season, and Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said: “It will be interesting to see which team can impose its style on the other. We’re expecting a fast-paced game and a very intense encounter.
“We are looking forward to this match because of the tradition both clubs have.”
Dortmund’s domestic rivals, Bayer Leverkusen, visit Villarreal, whose Brazilian forward Leo Baptistao believes a first-leg victory is vital if his team are to progress to the quarter-finals.
“The first leg is always key in a knockout tie,” he told Villarreal’s official club website. “If we get a good result we’ll be more relaxed going to Germany. We’ll do our best to win.
“It’s never a good moment to face (Bayer). We can’t wait for the game though and we know we can do them some damage. We will try to be more intense than them so we can go to Germany with an advantage.”
Sparta Prague are among Europe’s form teams, and they host Lazio on a run of nine consecutive wins in all competitions. Sparta coach Zdenek Scasny is confident the strength of squad means that run can continue.
“Competition for places is having a very positive effect,” he said. “Everybody is highly motivated, not just during the games but also in every training session.”
Elsewhere, Valencia visit domestic rivals Athletic Bilbao, FC Basle host Sevilla, Sporting Braga visit Fenerbahce, and Anderlecht travel to Shakhtar Donetsk.