The Europa league may not be as prestigious as the Champion’s League but still promises us a lot of action. This week’s round of 16 matches in the Europa League did not disappoint as a string of unpredictable results caught pundits by surprise.
Chelsea are front-runners for winning the competition as their seamless progression in the Europa League has them destined for greatness. On Thursday night, Maurizio Sarri’s men dominated Dynamo Kiev to progress to the next round 8-0 on aggregate. Olivier Giroud will continue to make his case for a starting forward position scoring a hat-trick in the second leg while Callum Hudson-Odoi, who’s performances have caught the eye of teams like Bayern Munich despite being handed limited starts this season, managed to get on the score-sheet in both legs and could be a potential game changer for the blues.
The 18-year-old’s blistering pace constantly troubles his opponents and wreaks havoc for the opposing team’s defenders.
Arsenal have had their troubles this season but seem to have found their feet with a recent good run of form after making a comeback against Rennes this week. Arsenal are a force to be reckoned with as Unai Emery’s men are capable of demolishing teams with their dominant passing and possession-based play.
Emery’s tactical acumen and willingness to take risks have contributed to their success and players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, currently their top scorer in the premier league, could be the difference in their push for the trophy. Emery’s attacking style of play has benefited the Gabon striker as he has an impressive haul of 22 goals in all competitions this season.
But this season, Arsenal’s performances have been riddled with inconsistency. Earlier this month, they led against teams like Southampton in the league but ended up losing the match. If they can find their consistency and take their chances, they could very well be on the verge of European success.
Italian side Napoli will throw their hat into the ring for a go at the Europa League this season. But it could be tough for them seeing how they managed to slip up and nearly blow a three-goal lead against the German FC Salzburg. With danger man Dries Mertens often leading the attack and contributing to the goals, the Italian outfit could put up a strong challenge to any team that faces them in the next round. However, it looks highly unlikely that they will make it past stronger and more ruthless opponents. But not all Italian teams in the Europa League have had the same luck as Eintracht Frankfurt managed to knock out former Champion’s League winners Inter Milan.
With Frankfurt sitting 5th in the Bundesliga table, they have impressed this season with top scorer Luka Jovic responsible for scoring crucial goals. Frankfurt’s attack-minded coach, Adi Hütter, has been a revelation for the club as well, giving Jovic the attacking freedom that has allowed him to flourish and score important goals for the club.
I wouldn’t count Frankfurt out of the race as they appear to be the dark horses this season. Whoever is matched up against them in the quarter finals should not underestimate the Germans.
Portuguese side Benfica are also in contention for the second-tier continental cup. The team currently sit at the top of the league table in the Premeira Liga. The team have an extremely lethal attack. To illustrate their attacking prowess, they recently won a league game against Nacional 10-0, the largest marginal win in the Premeira Liga in 55 years. I imagine that a team with such a fearsome attack could inflict some real damage on defending teams as they have some immense talent at the club.
Joao Felix, deemed the next Cristiano Ronaldo, burst onto the scene this season to inspire his team and has been a revelation for the club. They also have a solid defence conceding there third-least amount of league goals. Although they may have difficulty facing tougher opposition, Benfica have put up a good fight to make it this far in the competition and I wouldn’t rule them out too early. They are one to watch out for.
Spanish teams Valencia and Villareal both beat Russian teams FK Krasnodar and Zenit St. Petersburg to advance to the quarter finals. Despite Villareal sitting just outside the relegation zone after a tumultuous season and a merry-go-round of managers, they have managed decent European success. Villareal are a side that have the boldness and ability to create chances and take many shots. They don’t just sit back and accept a beating, which is what has brought them this far in the competition. When striker Carlos Bacca takes his chances, Villareal can be a very dangerous team.
But their poor defence will be their downfall as they are unable to defend against highly skillful opponents. If you pit their defenders against good dribblers, it could spell trouble for them.
On the other hand, Valencia have a more stable position in the league and managed to pip Krasnodar to a spot in the last eight. Like the Spanish counterparts, Valencia are very good at creating chances and threaten on the counter-attack. But their poor defence stands in the way of their progression.
If their Captain, Dani Parejo, a commanding midfielder and arguably their best player, can get his team to perform in attack as well as in defence, success wouldn’t be off the table though it would surprise many as getting this far in the competition for these Spanish clubs would exceed our expectations.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was Sevilla, the former five-time Europa League winners, last winning the competition for the third consecutive time in the 2015/16 season, getting knocked out by a team most have never heard of before. SK Slavia Prague defeated the Spanish club in extra time with a last-minute winner. Slavia Prague are currently at the top of the league and the most famous team in their native Czech Republic. They have had four wins in their last five games going into the second leg of the Europa League clash but were still seen as the underdogs going into the game.
Nonetheless, the Czechs played to their strengths and used their physicality as an advantage over the talented Spanish side. They defended well and took their chances, knowing when to press and when to sit back and defend patiently. Their surprising success should be accredited to their manager, Jindřich Trpišovský, who was able to get his team to play to their strengths to make it through to the next round. If Trpišovský’s men can continue doing what they do best, they may stun the world with a win. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
EUROPA LEAGUE DRAW
First leg: 12th April
Second leg: 19th April
Napoli vs Arsenal
Villarreal vs Valencia
Benfica vs Frankfurt
Slavia Prague vs Chelsea
Both Chelsea and Arsenal were drawn away from home in the first leg before returning to London for the second contest.
UEFA have since confirmed that they have decided to switch Arsenal’s legs.
The decision was made after a series of discussions with local authorities, who do not want both London clubs playing in the city of the same evening.
UEFA’s Club Competitions Committee principles state that because Chelsea won the FA Cup last season, it’s them who take priority.Leave a comment