European Football Recap
Writes Jack Maguire
Last Thursday saw the conclusion of the Last 32 round of the Europa League, and next Tuesday and Wednesday will see the culmination of the round of 16 in the Champions League. With many thrilling encounters having been played out already, there are some crackers lined up for the coming weeks and I feel it is an appropriate time to assess some of what has happened to date and take a look at what is to come.
First things first, Thursday night confirmed the last 16 line up for the Europa League. Manchester United saw off Club Brugge in comfortable fashion with a 6-1 win on aggregate. The tie was evenly poised after the Belgian side held United to a 1-1 draw in the first leg, but Fernandes, Ighalo, McTominay and Fred brace meant the red side of Manchester progressed without ever really moving out of 3rd gear. Simon Deli’s dismissal after 22 minutes for what appeared to be a deliberate handball paved the way for United to play free flowing attacking football. They have been drawn to face LASK in the last 16. The Austrian side have already caused upsets in the competition, leaving teams such as Rosenborg, PSV Eindhoven and Sporting CP in their wake in the group stages and defeating AZ Alkmaar in the last 32. United travel to Linz for the first leg with the return leg in Old Trafford on the 19th of March.
One of the surprise packages in this seasons Europa League so to speak is Wolves. Their form and team performances have been no surprise, but their rise to the challenge of European football has been incredible. They were handed a tough group with Slovan Bratislava, Besiktas and SC Braga, which they emerged from undefeated. They were emphatic victors in their home leg tie with Espanyol meaning they took a 4-0 lead to Barcelona. A 3-2 victory for the Spanish side on home turf was not enough to overturn the deficit and the Wolves progressed to the last 16 where they have been presented with a trip to the Greek Capital to face Olympiacos. Olympiacos were the giant killers of the previous round where they broke Arsenal hearts. A 120th minute goal from Youssef El-Arabi was enough to seal the deal for Pedro Martins Men who progressed on away goals having drawn 2-2 on aggregate.
After coming off an incredible Champions League Campaign last season, there is no doubt that Ajax had their eyes set on another venture deep into Europe with the continents elite. Handed a Champions League Group that should have been manageable for the Amsterdam side, they fell to Chelsea and Valencia and found themselves in the Europa League, where they would certainly have fancied their chances. Unfortunately for them, they met an in form Getafe side who put all those hopes to bed. Defeated 2-0 away and winning 2-1 at home was not enough to see them through. Getafe will now face Inter Milan who overcame Ludogorets 4-1 on aggregate.
Moving on to the Champions League, there is huge anticipation building for the second leg ties. From a neutral point of view, the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid tie is incredibly exciting. Atletico earned a hard fought 1-0 on home soil and will take that one goal lead to Anfield. I’m sure most people remember what happened the last time a Spanish team brought a lead to Anfield. Watching the way Atletico played after scoring against The Reds in the Wanda Metropolitano sets the second contest to be a good one. Atletico sat back and got men behind the ball for the remainder of the game making it very difficult for Liverpool to break them down. Knowing the Liverpool fans, they will have a massive greeting for the teams and create an unbelievable atmosphere, and anything is possible for this Liverpool side in what will be a tough game.
The story of world football in the last few months has been Erling Haaland. Fantastic form with Molde and RB Salzburg earned him the big move to Borussia Dortmund where he has hit the ground running. Faced with the huge challenge of welcoming Paris Saint Germain to the Signal Iduna Park did not dazzle Haaland who scored twice in the last 20 minutes to earn the win. Neymar equalised in the 75th minute only for the 19 year old to score again 2 minutes later. It will be interesting to see how Dortmund defend their lead, and if the young frontmen, Jadon Sancho and Haaland can net a few goals away to one of Europes top teams.
In European football, as you come to the end of February and the beginning of May, it gets serious, and the elites really show their might. Judging by the first leg fixtures, we could be seeing Atalanta and RB Leipzig in the Champions League Quarter Final which would be a massive achievement. Will Klopp work his magic once again, and will Lyon hold out the mighty Juventus, all to be revealed.