Ah the Europa League. About as welcome in this country as see through public toilet walls. So many English clubs clamour all year for a spot in Europe only to Article 50 the hell out of it as soon as possible. Others aren’t so fortunate. Sides with reasonable squad depth are forced – horrifyingly so – to go for a trophy that definitely has more prestige than the League Cup and is likely the best route into the Champions League in what’s becoming an ever increasingly tight top six. Imagine as fans having to go to places like Prague, Bilbao or Brussels rather than Stoke, Middlesbrough or Hull. What a terrible, tortuous tournament this is. That broadcast was brought to you by the power of lazy English football cliches. And now on with the column.
As critics of the competition go, they don’t get any more fierce than Jose Mourinho, who has done everything but set up an online petition to get his side out. The focus was on the Pogba household sibling rivalry before the game but Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t get to where he is by allowing other people to have the spotlight. His hat trick and all around performance has all but condemned Manchester United to another round of this but he has been disqualified for contention for the award on account of the BT Sport advert for the game describing him as “King Zlat”. We’re not sure which poor intern came up with this particular moniker (and yes we’re aware there’s history there) but it certainly reminds us of a word that rhymes with Zlat. He probably would have snubbed us anyway.
Another side who look to have wrapped up their passage through to the next round is Lyon. An emphatic 4-1 victory away over AZ Alkmar makes it almost a formality that Bruno Génésio’s side will be in the round of 16 and with star turns from Nabil Fekir (two assists) and permanently linked with a move to the Premier League Alexandre Lacazette (two goals), it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that the French side can make it all the way to the business end of the competition. Or they could play Manchester United in the quarters and fold like a cheap accordion, making Jose and everyone having to endure yet another irksome European adventure. What a bunch of heels they would be.
The tie itself might not be quite as done and dusted as the previous two we’ve mentioned but my word this free kick from Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi against Borussia Mönchengladbach was as good as any way to win a football game. Bask in it’s beautiful set piece glory.
Wondergoals to no goals now, as Ajax were held to a goalless draw with current Polish champions Legia Warsaw. Michal Kopczynski and Maciej Dabrowski were key in making sure the door was firmly shut against the Dutch giants and as with every goalless first leg, the threat of away goals will loom large.
If you stopped watching the Europa League in April (and lets be fair, the more ludicrous part is that you’d still be watching), you’d be forgiven for thinking Villarreal had won it. Wild celebrations – the ones that tend to come back and bite you – followed their late 1-0 victory over Liverpool, what followed was the most lop sided Jekyll and Hyde performance until the final itself. No chance of that happening this time around however as El Submarino Amarillo decided to get the battering out of the way in the first leg. Roma took a page out of their own book (quite literally history books) as they came, saw and conquered. Edin Dzeko – formerly of Manchester City’s bench – was unstoppable, netting three times and giving an all around picture perfect striking display. Not only that, look how happy he is, he must be in prime contention for an Oscar. Imagine being happy to be in the Europa League. Anyone would think it’s a legitimate competition that we in England are short sighted and arrogant to constantly put down…