Europa League – Quarter Finals

Screenshot 2019-04-18 at 23.13.30
Via WikiCommons

Well, what an amazing couple of nights in Europe’s premier competition, the Champions League! As surprising as the semi-final lineup is for some, it’s not for me. After all I managed to somehow predict every result correctly. Usually at this point, most would accept the plaudits and not test their luck. I, on the other hand, am willing to risk it all just a mere day later.

First though, for anyone who missed my Champions League article, can feel free to check it out: Champions League – Quarter Finals

So onto today then!

The UEFA Europa League has been Europe’s second-tier competition since 1971, but has only been known by its current name since the rebranding in 2009. In the 48 years since its creation, this annual competition has changed a lot, both in name and format.

As a football fan, it is a competition I hold dearly because of Galatasaray’s success in 2000. Since 2009, UEFA (Governing body of football in Europe) has tried to make the competition more appealing to the elite teams who feel as though it’s beneath them, which seems to be working when you look at the recent winners list. Holders Atletico Madrid have won three times (2010, 2012 and 2018), which is a feat equalled by Sevilla (2014, 2015, 2016). While  Porto (2011), Chelsea (2013),  and Manchester United (2017) have taken home the trophy on one occasion. All because the winner of the Europa League is guaranteed a place in the Champions League for the following season. Something that is difficult to achieve via the league, especially if you are from England or Spain.

So, let’s take a look at the quarter final games that will be played tonight across Europe.

Napoli (Ita) vs Arsenal (Eng)

Arsenal will be heading to Italy with a two-goal advantage thanks to Aaron Ramsey and an own-goal.

This match is going to be very intriguing, because you have a team like Arsenal who ideally could defend solidly, try to nick a goal at the other end of the field and waltz into the next round. Yet, anybody who understands football knows that Arsenal never make it look as simple as it sounds. Plus, Napoli isn’t some joke team that has no chance. However, drawing a blank in England, in the first leg, is a huge negative against them.

In the end, it will come down to whether or not Arsenal can get the away goal because they are likely to need it. Napoli are a dangerous team at home. They are yet to lose at the atmospheric San Paolo Stadium in Naples, only conceding two goals in five European games – one goal each against Paris St. Germain and Red Star Belgrade. More impressively, earlier on in the season, Napoli kept a clean sheet against Liverpool in a Champions League game which they absolutely dominated.

Impressive, right? However, there is one important factor that needs considering. This is the first time that Napoli are going into a game trailing. Knowing that if Arsenal score a goal at any stage of the game, then they will need FOUR.

Verdict: Napoli 3 Arsenal 1 (Arsenal go through on away goals)

Eintracht Frankfurt (Ger) vs Benfica (Por)

Benfica won the first game 4-2 thanks to a hat-trick from their 19-year-old sensation, Joao Felix.

This has the potential to be a repeat of the first-leg with plenty of goals and drama thanks to Frankfurt’s resilience in Portugal. Despite playing with 10-men for 70+ minutes, they managed to score twice and keep the tie alive.

The biggest problem facing the German team is that they are playing a team that is absolutely lethal in front of goal! Benfica has scored four goals in each of their last three games, and only two months ago won 10-0, yes 10-0, in a Portugal Primeira Liga match against Nacional.

Yet, I have a sneaky suspicion that Frankfurt are going to be the ones laughing come the final whistle, as long as they can keep all 11 men on the field.

Verdict: Eintracht Frankfurt 4 Benfica 1 (Frankfurt go through 6-5 on aggregate)

Chelsea (Eng) vs Slavia Prague (Cze)

Chelsea lead one-nil thanks to a late goal from Marcos Alonso.

This tie, despite being the closest on score, should be the easiest one to predict. Chelsea are better than Slavia Prague in every area of the field but we could have said the same about Prague’s previous two opponents, Genk and Sevilla.

Chelsea will need an early goal to calm the nerves and I expect them to get it through the irreplaceable Eden Hazard. That will give them the confidence to go and get a few more goals and put the tie to bed.

Verdict: Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (Chelsea win 4-0 on aggregate)

Valencia (Spa) vs Villarreal (Spa)

Valencia hold a somewhat lucky 3-1 advantage after scoring two goals in the 90th minute of the first-leg.

This all-Spanish affair features a couple of teams that are searching for a way back to their glory days. Both Valencia and Villarreal regularly featured in the latter stages of the Champions League, with the prior making it to the final on a couple of occasions. If truth be told, neither have convinced that they will be back competing at the highest level anytime soon.

This is not a game for the neutral, as I expect Valencia to systematically foul the Villarreal players on every occasion in order to stop their flow. There will be plenty of yellow cards, and even a sending off in the game. After all, if the home team can stop Villarreal from scoring three or more goals, then they are guaranteed to progress. There is some hope though for Villarreal – a.k.a. The Yellow Submarine – who have managed to score at least one goal in 13 of the last 15 games they’ve played. In three of those games they hit the back of the net three times, and on one occasion played out a 4-4 draw against…Barcelona!

Verdict: Valencia 1 Villarreal 1 (Valencia to kick their way into the next round. 4-2 on aggregate)

 

 

 

Title Decider?

We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.

A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain six of the 60 available points possible so far).

Mohamed_Salah_2017
Mohamed Salah

More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.

Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?

Short answer: Yes, I believe so!

Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).

So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.

Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?

Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.

Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.

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No time like the present, Sergio!

Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.

What will happen?

Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.

Or …

Liverpool win tonight.

They then go on to lift the title …

… And I look like a fool!

 

Some Novelties Wear Off, While Others Do Not!

I was going through my usual routine of checking the different sports websites – BBC Sport, SporX.com, SkySports.com – and they were reporting on the same-old topical stories. Apparently some person scored a goal or did something amazing, while another was upset because of a referee’s call. Then, on the BBC, a couple of articles that caught my eye.

Wayne Rooney to play for England again: Does it cheapen an England call-up?

&

Floyd Mayweather: Boxer to fight kick-boxer Tenshin Nasukawa in Japan

Let’s begin with the insanity surrounding Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He has decided to take up mixed martial arts and will fight Tenshin Nasukawa.

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Floyd “Money” Mayweather (Via WikiCommons)

Who? I hear you ask.

In the world of MMA, he is pretty much an unknown. But don’t let that fool you. Nasukawa, 20, is unbeaten in 27 fights. (Four of those fights being in MMA.) He currently fights in the RIZIN Fighting Federation, the organisation that Mayweather also signed with.

He is no mug!

Mayweather is double Nasukawa’s age, and a retired boxer, albeit an exceptional one.

This fight has already been confirmed for December 31, but the rules and weight class are yet to be decided. Everything is due to be ironed out over the next few days. And you know, Mayweather isn’t going to be allowing his “money-maker” to become too disfigured going into 2019.

Expect a hell of a lot of rules, one of which will be, “No fighting on the ground,” (which immediately disqualifies this from being an MMA fight). So, we are looking at a kick-boxing match, with extra rules. What those rules will be, I’m not really sure. Maybe a limitation on the number of kicks being allowed. Even with a limitation, I am confident that Nasukawa will be knocking Mayweather out, as long as those yet-to-be-decided “rules” allow for it.

This fight is basically the equivalent of someone asking you if you want a fight, but then following it up with, “Okay, but no hitting me in the face.”

Which, for me, makes the contest a waste of time, and one that I will not watch. Not even to see Floyd’s eyes widen once that first blow lands on his melon, and he realises that the fight was not a good idea.


What about Wayne Rooney’s inclusion to the England national team?

People have argued that it’s a ridiculous decision, and it takes away an opportunity from a youngster who could become an England star in the future. Especially as England coach, Gareth Southgate, has been complaining about his main stars having to play too many competitive games, and that he doesn’t have enough opportunities to give youngsters an opportunity.

As a result, many people are adamant that Wayne Rooney’s appearance prior to the game would have sufficed, instead of taking up a position in the team. That way, he could have got the send-off that he deserves.

Wayne Rooney (left) and England coach Gareth Southgate. 

Yeah, maybe.

But it’s important to know that such a procedure (Introducing a legend before a game and giving them a ceremonial round of applause) is more common for retired players who haven’t kicked a ball in months, or a player who is playing at a very low level, and hanging onto a career because they’re not ready to call it a day yet.

Rooney doesn’t fit that description.

So, is it ok to give him the call-up?

Absolutely!

He is clearly still a great player!

Still skeptical?

Let’s look at the facts here:

  • It’s not a competitive game.
  • Rooney is playing competitively against international players (Plays for DC United in the American MLS).
  • He has scored 12 goals in 21 games.
  • He is the second-highest-capped player in England history (119 caps).
  • Highest number of England goals (53 goals).
  • Always fulfilled his England duty with pride.

Rooney is an England legend and deserves the correct send-off. This will be exactly that. A friendly game, against America, with the revenue from ticket sales going to the Wayne Rooney Foundation. Most importantly, his name will be chanted by the fans at the iconic home of football, Wembley Stadium.

Wembley Stadium, London (Via WikiCommons)

So, what about the youngsters?

Their time will come.

The funniest part of it all is that on the BBC, Rooney’s selection is being questioned, yet, Mayweather’s announcement is reported like it’s just normal behaviour.

What has the world of sport come to?