Europa League preview: Porto fresh from title, Villarreal host Twente

Fresh from clinching their 25th Liga Sagres title, Porto will turn their attention to the Europa League and a visit from Spartak Moscow.Porto sealed up the Portuguese league with a 2-1 win at bitter rivals and defending champions Benfica on Sunday, and will go into Thursday’s quarter-final first leg clash riding a wave of confidence.

Spartak will be their second Russian opponent in succession following Porto’s last-16 tie with CSKA Moscow, which ended 3-1 in the Liga Sagres champions’ favour.

Indeed, Porto have never lost to a Russian outfit, having won four and drawn two of their six meetings – all of which have happened to be against CSKA.

Spartak have had a less than auspicious start to the fledgling Russian Premier League season with one win and two losses, and will face a stern test against Porto, who also accounted for highly rated Spanish club Sevilla in the last 32.

The Portuguese outfit have no shortage of talented players at their disposal, but two that stand out are Columbian midfielder Fredy Guarin and Brazilian striker Hulk.

Guarin has hit a purple patch of late, scoring six times in his last seven matches, while Hulk’s tally of 21 goals in Liga Sagres to date – eight more than the second-highest scorer in the league – speaks for itself.

Portugal is well-represented in the last eight, with Benfica hosting Dutch club PSV Eindhoven for a chance to face either Porto or Spartak in the semi-finals, and Sporting Braga facing Dynamo Kiev on the other side of the draw.

Benfica saw off Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and will no doubt prove a handful for PSV, if they are incited by their failure to keep the league trophy out of Porto’s hands.

But PSV are battle-hardened by their fierce tussle with Twente atop the Eredivisie table, and will be buoyed by the form of Dutch forward Jeremain Lens, who scored the winner in PSV’s last-16 win over Rangers.

Sporting will enter their quarter-final tie in the midst of an eight-match unbeaten run across all competitions, but Dynamo dumped star-studded Manchester City from the European tournament and are not to be under-estimated.

Finally, Twente travel to Spanish club Villarreal in Thursday’s remaining quarter-final, one that shapes as the most evenly contested.

In-form Villarreal are within reach of a securing a Champions League berth in La Liga, and boast the Europa League’s top-scorer in Giuseppe Rossi (eight goals).

But red-hot Twente have suffered just three defeats in 2011 and boast a formidable strike partnership in Marc Janko and Luuk de Jong, who have plundered 24 goals between them this season.

Janko, however, is in doubt to play after injuring his shoulder in Austria’s friendly loss to Belgium late last month, and the absence of their leading scorer will be a huge blow to Twente’s chances of upsetting one of the tournament favourites.