It eventually gets to its destination, but it sure does take a damn long time to get there.
That’s right, as the Uefa Champions League is working toward its last 8, the Europa League is just getting to matchups for its last 16. This is why the Europa League gets a bad rap. With other competitions beginning to wind down, it seems annoying that there’s still SO MUCH left of this one.
AZ Alkmaar vs. Anzhi Makhachkala
Basel vs. FC Red Bull Salzburg
FC Porto vs. Napoli
Juventus vs. Fiorentina
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Valencia CF
Lyon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Sevilla vs. Real Betis
Tottenham vs. Benfica
I’m actually looking forward to quite a few of these matches: Basel v Salzburg, Porto v Napoli and Tottenham v Benfica all have potential to produce thrilling games. And that’s before we even get to Juventus vs. Fiorentina.
Another international break beckons next week. You know my feelings.
Not sure what to make of Real Madrid’s win over Schalke 04 today. Does it confirm them as Champions League title contenders or solidify their status as flat-track bullies? Time will tell, I guess.
As for Chelsea, their draw with Galatasary was textbook Jose Mourihno. They got the away goal but didn’t try to do much else. That’s why he gets the big bucks and why he’s won this competition twice.
The festivities resume on March 11/12.
More European competition fun with tomorrow’s Europa League matches.
Manchester United lost to Greek side Olympiacos in today’s Champions League action – totally validating the shakiness of my prediction skills. But can we really call this a shocking loss?
Yes and no.
As Olympiacos and its fans would no doubt remind us, beating Manchester United in a major European competition is still a pretty big deal. And the Greek team should revel in this win with no asterisks or qualifications attached to it.
But the fact remains that this was a bad performance in a season full of them for Manchester United. And I’m not entirely sure they’ll be able to recover when the tie resumes at Old Trafford in a couple of weeks.
Today’s results have me feeling good about my decision to fancy the unfancied.
Not sure how it happened, but FC Salzburg (aka Red Bull Salzburg) beat Ajax 3-0 – in Amsterdam no less. Likewise, how did Dnipro beat Tottenham.
Other teams that unexpectedly prevailed – or drew – against more well-known opposition: PFC Ludogorets of Bulgaria somehow beat Lazio 1-0. FC Chornomorets Odesa held Lyon to a 0-0 draw, while Maccabi Tel Aviv also held FC Basel 0-0. Maribor drew Sevilla 2-2 – after taking an early lead. Anzhi and Genk also played to a 0-0, which puts a dent in my only-the-Champions-League-KO-stages-are-cagey thesis. (I guess the high stakes in European competition makes everyone cautious)
Juventus easily beat Trabzonspor, and this leads me to my main prediction for this season’s Europa League. I’m not a big fan of declarative it-shall-be-so statements, but Juventus have to win this competition easily. Frankly, they are the best team left in it, and no other team should even get NEAR beating them from now through the final.
The lone surprise of this matchday was Swansea City and Napoli drawing 0-0. I can’t believe Napoli couldn’t score ONE goal during that game.
Bayern Munich over Arsenal and Atletico Madrid beating AC Milan – though only just? Maybe my prediction skills aren’t so bad after all*
Also – I think I read the best description ever of the Champions League – from The Guardian’s Daniel Harris in the preamble to his minute-by-minute for the Atletico/Milan game:
One of the many and great
horrificities peculiarities about other people is finding that the things we like about them are also the things that we don’t like. The ability to love us, for example.
And that’s your “Champions League”. On the one hand, it’s always very brilliant, not something that can be said of very much. But, on the other and in identical aspect, it’s a protectionist racket that facilitates brutal wealth, absurd nationalism, and vomitous entities. On the one hand, it brings us surprise but legitimate thrills, like Dynamo Kiev in 1998, Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 and Porto in 2004. But, on the other and in identical aspect, the aforementioned quickly pillage their most valuable assets – hell, it’s even happened to Borussia Dortmund, last season’s finalists and the club with Europe’s highest average attendance. On the one hand, there is generally a goodly selection of clubs with a goodly shot at winning at it. But, on the other and in identical aspect, the accordant prize money ringfences domestic titles, winnable only by frequent competitors.
Europa League tomorrow, so I’ll be checking my GoalLIVE app regularly for score updates.
*or, the Champions League is REALLY easy to predict at this stage
For PSG (see what I did there?)
Barcelona beating Manchester City 2-0 reminded me of why any matches involving Barca are automatic zzzzzz material for me.
It doesn’t feel like it, but this part of the tournament is going to fly by. Before we know it, it’ll be time for the cagey quarters and semis. Hoping for some good, competitive games between now and then.
Now that it’s been whittled to 32 teams, and with me making an effort to learn more about those unfancied teams, I have more reason to pay attention to the Europa League. While I’m not yet ready to pick a winner, I will have my eye on the following matchups:
Juventus (ITA) v Trabzonspor AŞ (TUR)
NK Maribor (SVN) v Sevilla FC (ESP)
Swansea City AFC (ENG) v SSC Napoli (ITA)
SS Lazio (ITA) v PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)
Esbjerg fB (DEN) v ACF Fiorentina (ITA)
FC Viktoria Plzeň (CZE) v FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)