Four Spanish sides prepare for Europa League action

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Madrid, March 9 (IANS) Spain’s four surviving football sides in the Europa League are in action on Thursday with a tie between Athletic Club Bilbao and Valencia the standout fixture.

Europa League holders Sevilla travel to face Basel, whose ground will actually host this season’s final, reports Xinhua.

The Spanish side qualified for the last 16 with ease against Norwegian outfit Molde in the last round and should be able to see off their Swiss rivals, but coach Unai Emery must be worried about their away form given that they have not won away from home in the La Liga all season.

After knocking Napoli out of the last 32, Villarreal have been handed another tough tie with Bayer Leverkusen visiting their El Madrigal Stadium.

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Villarreal suffered a surprise home defeat to Las Palmas on Saturday and will be up against a German side led by former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez.

Three weeks ago it looked as if Valencia were emerging from a crisis as Gary Neville’s side reached the last 16 of the competition and won two Spanish League games. That all looks like ancient history again as two defeats in their last three games have kick-started the crisis talk again.

One of those defeats was a 0-3 home thrashing by Athletic Club Bilbao in the league and Valencia must now travel to the San Mames Stadium to face the Basque side, who have won their last three matches.

Athletic Club coach Ernesto Valverde has been able to rotate his squad to preserve tired legs among key players and the return of Iker Muniain to full fitness after a knee operation has been a major boost.

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Meanwhile, 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz is enjoying his best season ever with 30 goals in all competitions and unless Valencia improve drastically they could suffer in Bilbao on Thursday.

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