Europa League Preview: Dortmund and Leipzig Eye the Quarter-Finals

It is a return to European action for both Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig this week as they look to progress further in this season’s Europa League. Having both overcome Italian opposition the previous round, BVB face Salzburg, while RB Leipzig take on the Russians of Zenit St Petersburg.

Borussia Dortmund v Salzburg (Thursday 8th March 18:00 BST)

Having just faced RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga at the weekend, Borussia Dortmund now face the Austrian version with Salzburg the visitors to the Signal Iduna Park for the next round of the Europa League. UEFA rules stipulate the visitors have to drop the Red Bull part of their name in European competition, so it is FC Salzburg who will arrive on Thursday.

Dortmund needed a late goal from Marcel Schmelzer to help overcome Atalanta in the previous round. With just seven minutes left at the Stadio Reggio Emilia it looked as if the hosts were going to progress on the away goals rule, only for BVB’s captain to pop up with a vital late equaliser.

Peter Stöger has maintained his unbeaten run as Dortmund boss, but the number of draws achieved will be of some concern. The latest stalemate came on Saturday as they were held 1-1 by RB Leipzig.

Salzburg, as expected, are cruising in the Austrian T-Mobile Bundesliga. They’ve lost just once in 25 games and currently have a ten point lead over second placed Sturm Graz.  In the Europa League round of 32, they overcame Spanish side Real Sociedad drawing 2-2 in San Sebastian before securing a 2-1 win in the second-leg.

During the Europa League group stage Marco Rose’s side kept five clean sheets in a row, so defensively they should prove a tough nut for Dortmund to crack. The 41-year-old Salzburg coach (in his first season in charge) is a former VfB Leipzig, Hannover and Mainz defender.

One to Watch: Munas Dabbur

Both Andre Ramalho and Reinhold Yabo will be known to Bundesliga regulars, but the one to watch for Salzburg could well be Israeli striker Munas Dabbur. The 25-year-old has been pretty prolific in the league this season scoring 16 goals from his 25 appearances, while adding a further four in the Europa League. He was linked with Werder Bremen back in 2015, but nothing came of the speculation and he signed a new contract with Grasshoppers Zürich.

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RB Leipzig v Zenit St Petersburg (Thursday 8th March 20:05 BST)

Leipzig, in their first season of European football, face a veteran in the round of 16 in the guise of 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg.

Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side can be grateful that previous opponents Napoli didn’t take the competition as seriously as they perhaps could have, but will face a stern test against the Sine-Belo-Golubye.

Roberto Mancini’s side are a little off the pace in the Russian Premier League lying fourth and eight points behind leaders Lokomotiv Moscow. They were held to a goalless draw in their feisty weekend match at home to Amkar, which saw three players sent off (Aleksandr Erokhin and Domenico Criscito for Zenit).

In the last Europa League round they saw off Celtic after losing the first-leg in Glasgow 1-0. Three goals at the Krestovsky Stadium saw them safely through with goals from Branislav Ivanovic, Daler Kuzyaev and Aleksandr Kokorin.

Zenit were unbeaten in five matches on German soil until their most recent encounter – a 2-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen in the 2014-15 Champions League group stage.

Leipzig drew with Dortmund at the weekend to maintain their position just outside of the top four in the Bundesliga. The season in entering a key phase for RB right now. The Europa League could offer a way into next seasons Champions League, but on the other had it could prove to a distraction that takes away from their push to get back into Germany’s top four.

One to Watch: Aleksandr Kokorin

The poster-boy of Russian football will be one to keep an eye out for as the two sides meet on Thursday. Zenit’s number nine has really enjoyed the Europa League so far this season with six goals in just seven matches.

In the domestic league the 26-year-old has banged in ten goals making him the Premier League’s second top-scorer behind Krasnodar’s Fedor Smolov. The former Dynamo Moscow striker will hope to spearhead Russia’s attack in this summer’s World Cup.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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