A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Thursday:
Chelsea is unbeaten in four games under new manager Thomas Tuchel and showing signs of improvement, especially defensively, ahead of a trip to second-tier Barnsley in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Tuchel has faced a match every three or four days since replacing the fired Frank Lampard at the end of January and has already stamped his authority on the team, which has conceded just once – an own-goal – under the German and has dominated possession in all four games. Barnsley, owned by a consortium involving ”Moneyball” guru Billy Beane, is mid-table in the Championship. Wolverhampton hosts fellow Premier League team Southampton in the other last-16 matchup, with the pair of games set to complete the lineup for the quarterfinals.
Athletic Bilbao hosts Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. Athletic is trying to repeat as finalist while Levante is back in the final four for the first time in 86 years. Athletic, revitalized under coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, has a chance to play in its third final this year. It defeated Barcelona to win the Spanish Super Cup final in January and is set to face Basque Country rival Real Sociedad in April in the final of last season’s Copa del Rey, which was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The second leg will be in March. Barcelona and Sevilla meet in the other Copa semifinal.
Rennes travels to face first-division rival Angers and Saint-Etienne goes to second-tier Sochaux in the French Cup’s remaining round of 64 games. Rennes won the Cup for the third time in 2019, defeating Paris Saint-Germain after coming from 2-0 down in a dramatic final. Saint-Etienne has won the trophy six times – the third-most behind Marseille and 13-time champion PSG – and was runner-up to PSG last year.
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