Liverpool face Atalanta in Europa League quarters

Liverpool will play Italian outfit Atalanta in the quarter-finals of this season’s Europa League after the teams were paired together in Friday’s draw, which left open the possibility of the Anfield side meeting Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen in the final.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are still in contention to win a quadruple this season, will entertain Atalanta at Anfield on April 11 and go to Italy a week later for the return.

The Reds hammered Sparta Prague 11-2 on aggregate in the last 16 and will be favourites to beat Atalanta, who currently lie sixth in Serie A.

The clubs met in the group stage of the Champions League in 2020/21, with Liverpool winning 5-0 away in Bergamo and Atalanta winning 2-0 at Anfield.

“(They have) still the same manager, I’m pretty sure a similar structure, which means uncomfortable to play against, very well organised,” Klopp said with reference to the side coached by Gian Piero Gasperini.

“Very interesting, really looking forward to it, let’s see what we can do. But a lot of respect for what Atalanta is doing in the last years, very consistent.”

Leverkusen are enjoying a remarkable season under former Liverpool midfielder Alonso, who is one of the leading contenders to replace Klopp as manager at Anfield when the German steps down at the end of the campaign.

Winners of the UEFA Cup, the Europa League’s predecessor, in 1988, Leverkusen have not lost a game all season and are currently 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with nine matches left.

Their unbeaten record very nearly ended on Thursday, when they trailed 2-1 in injury time at home to Qarabag before a stunning comeback to win 3-2 against the side from Azerbaijan.

That allowed them to win their last-16 tie 5-4 on aggregate.

Leverkusen will face West Ham United — last season’s Europa Conference League winners — in the quarter-finals, with the English side having beaten another German club in Freiburg in the last round.

“Of course we know West Ham, a Premier League team,” Alonso said on Friday.

“Last year they had a huge success in the Conference League. (They have) top players. It’s exciting to be in the quarter finals against a very good opponent.”

The winners of that tie will advance to a semi-final against either AC Milan or Roma, who will face off in an all-Italian last-eight tie.

Asked about his side not being able to face Liverpool until the final, Alonso added: “I wish Liverpool the best of course, but we will see. There’s a long way until the final in Dublin.”

The other quarter-final brings together two former European champions, with Marseille taking on Benfica.

Whoever wins that will play either Liverpool or Atalanta in the last four.

This season’s Europa League final will be played in Dublin on May 22.


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