Football action: Villarreal, Valencia head-to-head in all-Spanish Europa League clash

Local rivals Villarreal and Valencia will go head-to-head in Europe when they meet in the quarterfinals of the Europa League on Thursday night.

It is not the first time the two teams have clashed in Europe, with their previous meeting in the semifinal of the 2004 UEFA Cup ending with Valencia winning the tournament on their way to a league and cup double under Rafael Benitez.

The first leg of the quarterfinal in Villarreal’s Estadio de la Ceramica comes after a difficult weekend for both teams.

Valencia saw a 17-game unbeaten run come to a surprising end with a 2-0 defeat away to struggling Rayo Vallecano, while Villarreal had the agony of seeing a late Santi Cazorla penalty saved as they lost 2-1 away to Real Betis.

That defeat saw Villarreal drop back into the bottom three in La Liga, but as they showed a week ago in their thrilling 4-4 draw at home to FC Barcelona, a team that can count on players such as Gerard Moreno, Carlos Bacca and Karl Toko Ekambi in attack has to be taken seriously.

Villarreal have left rivals such as Sporting Lisbon and Zenit St Petersburg in their wake on their way into the last eight, and have used the competition to boost morale for their fight to avoid relegation in Spain.

Valencia, meanwhile, dropped to sixth in La Liga after their weekend setback and will be without key players Carlos Soler (suspended) and Geoffrey Kondogbia (injured). Goalkeeper Jaume Domenech is also going to miss out after being taken to hospital with acute gastroenteritis, but that will not be a problem as Norberto Neto, who is first choice in La Liga, will replace him.

Sunday sees both sides in La Liga action again, with Valencia facing another derby at home to city rivals Levante, while Villarreal have a vital visit to fellow strugglers Girona, but with a chance of European glory and a semifinal against either Arsenal or Napoli, neither Valencia boss Marcelino Garcia nor Villarreal’s Javi Calleja are going to be making concessions with the weekend in mind.