The final phase of the Europa League has been set, with Friday’s quarterfinal draw pitting Tyler Adams and Leipzig against new American acquisition Atalanta, and giving James Sands and Rangers a strong chance of reaching the semifinal.
Leipzig received a free pass to the final eight after Russian teams were kicked out of all forms of international sporting competitions, giving them an automatic win over Spartak Moscow.
While avoiding the biggest heavyweights left in the competition – FC Barcelona – they will still have a tough task against Italians Atalanta, who, while inconsistent this season, have propensity to score in bunches against unsuspecting opponents.
Adams has seen a downtick in playing time in recent weeks under head coach Dominico Tedesco, however with the Italian-born coach regularly shifting his chess pieces, the USMNT captain could be back in his good graces by the time the first leg in Leipzig kicks off on Thursday, April 7.
Atalanta was recently brought under American control, and the new owners will be eager to see their new, expensive toy make steps towards their first-ever European trophy, beginning with an aggregate win over the Germans.
The team that advances from this tie will face the winner of the quarterfinal between Portuguese team SC Braga and Scottish powerhouse Rangers.
James Sands has been playing more often for Rangers over their last few games, most recently holding down the fort as they sealed the aggregate Round of 16 win over Red Star Belgrade, despite narrowly losing the second leg.
By drawing Braga, likely the weakest team left in the last eight, they have a strong chance of reaching the final four.
Rangers’ one and only victory in a major European tournament came in the 1971-72 edition of the defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, which would give added significance if they can by some miracle win the Europa League 50 years later.
Elsewhere in the draw, Tim Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt will have to act as giant killers if they hope to advance past Spanish giants Barcelona. Chandler has seen inconsistent playing time for the German team, and did not take the field on Thursday night as they eventually overcame Real Betis in the last seconds of overtime.
Sergiño Dest has been the go-to starting right back for Barcelona in the Europa League knockout games, however injured his hamstring in their 2-1 win over Galatasaray, and is unlikely to be healthy again for the quarterfinal matches on April 7 and 14.
The winner of the tie between Frankfurt and Barcelona will face either West Ham United or Lyon in the semifinal.
Europa League Quarterfinal Draw
RB Leipzig (Tyler Adams) – Atalanta
Eintracht Frankfurt (Tim Chandler) – Barcelona (Sergiño Dest)
West Ham United – Lyon
SC Braga – Rangers FC (James Sands)