English trio guard slender Europa leads
Three English Premier League sides face tough away tests in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-32 matches this week as they look to protect precarious single-goal leads.
Liverpool, Everton and Fulham are all one goal up following the first matches of the competition's knockout phase and for the two Merseyside clubs this remains the last chance of winning silverware this season. Rafael Benitez's side take a 1-0 lead to Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni, David Moyes's men are 2-1 up as they play away at Sporting Lisbon and Roy Hodgson's Fulham meet the winners of the last ever UEFA Cup, Shakhtar Donetsk, with the London side also taking a 2-1 lead to Ukraine.
The Europa League is the rebranded successor to the trophy won by the Ukrainian side last year. It would be something of a consolation prize for Liverpool after their group-stage elimination from the UEFA Champions League, but Reds manager Benitez knows he needs to win a trophy to quell growing supporter unrest as his side trail 16 points behind Chelsea in the Premier League.
"When you win a European competition it is always very important," the Spaniard said. "If you cannot be in the Champions League, you have to do your best in this tournament and we would love to give a trophy to our fans. We want to do something important."
Liverpool's bitter rivals Everton are enjoying a mini-revival of late after beating domestic title challengers Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks. Toffees captain Phil Neville told Sky Sports that, while Everton's main priority is to qualify for Europe, the players want to win what would be the club's first honour since their 1995 FA Cup triumph.
"We'd love to win a trophy," Neville said. "At the start of every season we look to win a trophy and for a club that's progressing like ours it's always the next step - this team's got to be winning trophies."
In the pick of the other matches, Juventus will hope to protect a 2-1 lead at home to Dutch giants Ajax, while PSV Eindhoven bid to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Ruud Van Nistelrooy's new club, Hamburg. Claudio Ranieri's Roma saw their 20-match unbeaten run come to an end when they lost their first-leg match against Greece's Panathinaikos 3-2.
Roma's on-loan Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni is set to miss the game in the Italian capital with a calf problem. One-time European champions Marseille could rest a number of key players in their game against FC Copenhagen ahead of Sunday's 'Le Clasico' showdown with bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain. Didier Deschamps's side are on the brink of a place in the last 16 after comprehensively beating the Danish champions 3-1 away in the first leg.