Schuerrle looks for form as Europa League reaches last 16
PARIS (AP) — After some inconsistent form in the Italian league, Roma’s title challenge has faded away and success in the Europa League looks like a more realistic chance of silverware. Coach Rudi Garcia’s side, which is away to fellow Italian side Fiorentina in the first leg of their last 16 match, has won only one of its past six games.
It’s the opposite for Dutch side Ajax, a four-time European Cup champion, which is in fine form having won six of its previous seven games ahead of its trip to play Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk .
Here are some things to know about Thursday’s matches in the Europa League:
ANDRE LOOKING FOR FORM
Wolfsburg will be hoping club record signing Andre Schuerrle can break his scoring duck against Italian side Inter Milan.
The German forward who joined the club from Chelsea for an estimated 32 million euros, has yet to cement his place as the focal point of Wolfsburg’s attack.
Schuerrle, got little playing time in Chelsea, got off to a promising start with two assists in his first game for Wolfsburg.
But his form has been on a downward curve ever since and he has often been substituted.
Schuerrle says he has been trying “to figure out why it is.”
Head coach Dieter Hecking continues to persist with Schuerrle in the starting 11 because he believes the forward needs to keep playing constantly to improve his form.
“Our belief in Andre is without limits,” general manager Klaus Allofs said.
Ivan Perisic is back from injury and will be putting pressure on Schuerrle. “I am ready and I need matches,” Perisic said.
There is a record-breaking number of five Italian teams in the last 16, with some of those clubs also looking to set records of their own.
Inter Milan visits Wolfsburg full of confidence after a run of just one defeat in seven matches as Roberto Mancini’s team appears to have finally begun to tick.
Inter may have slipped in Serie A over the past few seasons but the prestigious Milanese club is looking for a record fourth success in the competition. It is currently level with Juventus, Liverpool and Sevilla on three.
Napoli, which hosts Dynamo Moscow, has its sight set on leveling a record, with coach — and cup specialist — Rafa Benitez aiming to match Giovanni Trapattoni and become the second manager to win the competition three times.
This could be Benitez’s last season in charge with rumors growing that the former Liverpool coach will leave at the end of the campaign but the Spaniard insists “I haven’t decided anything yet.”
“I’ll talk (about my future) in April,” Benitez added. “My future is not decided, I am happy here, I will speak but at the moment I have had no offers and I’m not interested in anything apart from tomorrow’s match.”
Torino also faces a Russian team as it has a tricky trip to Zenit St. Petersburg, while there is at least one Serie A club guaranteed to be in the quarterfinals with Fiorentina playing Roma in an all-Italian tie.
The Europa League is offering respite for Everton in a miserable campaign on the domestic front for the English club.
Challenging for Champions League qualification last season, Everton is being dragged into a relegation fight in the Premier League this time around as its big players — like expensive summer signing Romelu Lukaku and England international Ross Barkley — struggle for form.
Europe has been a release for Roberto Martinez’s team, which eased out of its group before a commanding performance against Young Boys — with Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku scoring five goals over both legs — to set up progress from the last 32.
Dynamo Kiev is next up for Everton, which is the only British representative left after the exits of Liverpool, Tottenham and Celtic in the last round. Dynamo is the leader of the Ukrainian league.
The first leg is at Goodison Park.
Defending Europa League champion Sevilla faces fellow Spanish club Villarreal, the highest-scoring attack left in the competition
Villarreal is unbeaten at home in the Europa League this season and coach Marcelino Garcia’s team has 20 goals in eight games.
Luciano Vietto’s breakout season as Villarreal’s 21-year-old striker has seen him net a team-high five goals in the competition, coupled with his 12 strikes in the league.
“We have to keep a clean sheet,” said Sevilla midfielder Vicente Iborra. “They are very good at striking with their speed, and they are also comfortable with the ball. I think we will have to be prepared for any type of game, both ready to fight for possession and to not leave space for them.”
Villarreal will be without captain and holding midfielder Bruno Soriano, sidelined since fracturing his right fibula last month.
AP writers Joseph Wilson, Nesha Starcevic, Daniella Matar and Steve Douglas contributed to this story.