Football Features

Winners and losers from the Europa League quarter-finals as Joao Felix makes history

By Steve Jennings

Published: 22:25, 11 April 2019

Chelsea edged past Slavia Prague on a thrilling night of Europa League quarter-final action.

The Blues will take a 1-0 back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg thanks to Marcos Alonso’s late winner in the Czech Republic.

Back in London, Arsenal secured a 2-0 victory over Napoli to set up an enticingly poised reverse fixture in Italy.

But below we’ve focused on Chelsea’s exploits, as well as wins for Benfica and Valencia against Frankfurt and Villarreal.

Here are the winners and losers from Thursday night’s games.

Winner: Joao Felix

Benfica starlet Joao Felix is on his way to becoming a special player. The 19-year-old has been dubbed the best Portuguese talent since Cristiano Ronaldo, and he earned that label with a spectacular hat-trick against Frankfurt.

In doing so, he became the youngest Benfica player and the youngest Portuguese player to score in the Europa League.

Felix outshone one of the Europe’s in-form strikers, Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic (who was also on the scoresheet against his parent club), with a scintillating display that means his side will take a 4-2 lead to Germany for the second leg.

The teenager’s second goal was a powerful strike from outside the box that completely took Frankfurt by surprise. Felix is being linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United, and it’s not difficult to see why.

With 15 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions at just 19, there will be calls for Felix to make the move to one of Europe’s top five leagues this summer. He will have to decide whether to make that leap in the coming months or if another year at Benfica is what’s best for his development.

Losers: Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic

After inadvertently forming a double act by being substituted for each other repeatedly throughout the season, Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic have both found themselves on the bench in Chelsea’s last two matches.

Maurizio Sarri switched things up against Slavia Prague, bringing Barkley and Kovacic into the midfield either side of Jorginho. And predictably, it was immediately clear why Sarri’s recent run of winning form has coincided with the duo being left out.

Not only did they fail to offer any threat going forward, leaving the Olivier Giroud isolated up front, but Barkley and Kovacic never really seemed confident about their responsibilities. At times they were overrun and neither midfielder offered enough creativity.

Barkley was slightly more involved and his recent displays for England proved he certainly has his uses, but Kovacic Chelsea’s future – the Croatian is only on loan at Stamford Bridge – will remain uncertain unless he has a good run-in.

With all of that in mind, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the pair return to the bench when Chelsea travel to Liverpool this weekend.

Winner: Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Despite only playing for the final 15 minutes, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a clear winner. Since coming on to score the winner against Cardiff City last month, the 23-year-old is finally getting a run in the team having started in Chelsea’s last two league games.

That run looks set to continue if Sarri agrees with the above take on Barkley and Kovacic. Indeed, a midfield three of Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Loftus-Cheek has earned Chelsea successive league victories, while the altered trio we saw in Prague simply didn’t do enough.

Wrapped up in the cold among his fellow substitutes, Loftus-Cheek must have been in some way happy to see Barkley and Kovacic fail to make a case for their inclusion at Liverpool.

Loser: Jindrich Trpisovsky

In the build-up to Chelsea’s visit, Slavia Prague manager Jindrich Trpisovsky made a bizarre confession, admitting he had only watched the Blues’ poor performances rather than games in which Chelsea have played well.

“We’ve watched different games, especially matches where the opponents managed to get more points or put them under pressure and played very well,” Trpisovsky said (via the Guardian). “We were choosing matches where Chelsea were not as strong as they usually were.”

For much of the contest, it looked like the Prague boss had made the correct decision; his side had the better of the chances. However, Chelsea managed to wrestle a bit of control from the hosts after making their substitutes, and Trpisovsky’s plan appeared to backfire.

Prague were a little naive in the final stages, pushing too hard to score the winner and ignoring the fact a goalless draw would have been a useful scoreline to take to Stamford Bridge. Instead, Chelsea now have an away goal that could prove pivotal.

Winner: Gonçalo Guedes

Until the 90th minute of the all-Spanish meeting between Villarreal and Valencia, it looked as if nothing could separate the sides with the scores tied at 1-1.

But Valencia midfielder Goncalo Guedes had other ideas. The 22-year-old, who had given the visitors the lead after just six minutes, found the net again three minutes into stoppage time after Daniel Wass had put Valencia ahead for the second time.

Santi Cazorla erased the memory of his missed penalty against Real Betis at the weekend by scoring a spot-kick to level things up in the 36th minute. But Valencia’s late double swung the tie in their favour.

Three away goals will surely be enough to take Valencia through to the semi-finals, and Guedes can be delighted with his night’s work.