footy musings from a (relative) newbie

Posts tagged ‘napoli’

How Europa League is like the CTA Brown Line

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.

Welcome back, Europa League

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.

Europa League – it’s fun too!

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)
  • Europe League KO Draw

    Thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?

    But no. This season, I’ve resolved to give the Europa League its due. With that, here’s the round of 32 draw

    FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (UKR) v Tottenham Hotspur FC (ENG)

    Real Betis Balompié (ESP) v FC Rubin Kazan (RUS)

    Swansea City AFC (ENG) v SSC Napoli (ITA)

    Juventus (ITA) v Trabzonspor AŞ (TUR)

    NK Maribor (SVN) v Sevilla FC (ESP)

    FC Viktoria Plzeň (CZE) v FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)

    FC Chornomorets Odesa (UKR) v Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)

    SS Lazio (ITA) v PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)

    Esbjerg fB (DEN) v ACF Fiorentina (ITA)

    AFC Ajax (NED) v FC Salzburg (AUT)

    Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC (ISR) v FC Basel 1893 (SUI)

    FC Porto (POR) v Eintracht Frankfurt (GER)

    FC Anji Makhachkala (RUS) v KRC Genk (BEL)

    FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) v Valencia CF (ESP)

    PAOK FC (GRE) v SL Benfica (POR)

    FC Slovan Liberec (CZE) v AZ Alkmaar (NED)

    Now, admittedly, I don’t know my Maribor from my Makhachkala, but I’m hoping to change all that in the next couple of months. Yup – I’m going to attempt to educate myself about all the unfancied teams making their way through the Europa League. We’ll see how that goes.

    Now, Europa League becomes interesting

    …or at least easier to keep track of.

    Let me get this out of the way: I am not a fan of the system that puts teams that crashed out of the Champions League Group Stage into the knockout rounds of the Europa League – a competition they haven’t played in and which many clubs have no serious interest in pursuing.

    That said, the Europa League becomes more interesting to me now that it’s involving 32 teams instead of 48! Also, this seems to be the part of the competition when most of the teams – at least the ones involved from the beginning – realize, “Hey, there’s an actual trophy at stake here!” and start playing accordingly. When the competition resumes in February, these teams will be competing to get to the round of 16:

    AZ Alkmaar, FC Basel 1893*, SL Benfica*, Eintracht Frankfurt, ACF Fiorentina, KRC Genk, PFC Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympique Lyonnais, SSC Napoli*, FC Rubin Kazan, FC Salzburg, Sevilla FC, FC Shakhtar Donetsk*, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Trabzonspor AŞ, Valencia CF.

    AFC Ajax*, FC Anji Makhachkala, Real Betis Balompié, FC Chornomorets Odesa, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, FC Dynamo Kyiv, Esbjerg fB, Juventus*, SS Lazio, Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, NK Maribor, PAOK FC, FC Porto*, FC Slovan Liberec, Swansea City AFC, FC Viktoria Plzeň*.

    As previously noted, for me, at this stage, Europa League becomes the more entertaining of the two major European competitions. That’s probably because I have little rooting interest and so enjoy seeing less well-known teams getting to the latter stages.

    In any event, I’m looking forward to the round of 32 draw on December 16 almost as much as I’m cursing the numerous ways Uefa will drag out the ceremony.

    *denotes teams transferred from the Champions League

    And So the Group Stage Ends

    After six matchdays, the UEFA Champions League has whittled to 16 the 32 teams that began the Group Stage in September. Along the way, some groups threw up surprises (Ciao, Juventus), while others stayed tight until almost the last kick.

    At the start of the Group Stage, I made my picks for winners and runners-up. So, how did I do?

    In Group A, I picked Manchester United and Bayer LeverKeusen to prevail, and they did – though not before putting out some lackluster performances. Group B was supposed to yield Real Madrid and Juventus as winner and runner-up, respectively. But while the Spaniards did their part (progressing through the group undefeated), Juventus started the competition playing badly and were eventually eliminated on this last matchday by Galatasary. Likewise, in Group C, Benfica, my pick for runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain, are out of the tournament; Greek team Olympiacos is going to the round of 16 instead.

    Group D proved to be status quo as defending champions Bayern Munich and Manchester City are on to the next round – the latter for the first time. No doubt Man City will take confidence from their defeat of Bayern on the final matchday.

    Despite twice defeating Chelsea, Switzerland’s FC Basel are out of the competition after losing to Schalke 04. Honestly, this is surprising to me. Basel played Chelsea off the park TWICE, and Schalke have been weaksauce in this competition and in the Bundesliga. Yet Chelsea and Schalke are the teams that ended up going through from Group E. At least I got the winner and runner-up right for this group!

    As advertised, the Group of Death (Group F) showed no mercy, as Napoli were eliminated despite beating Arsenal 2-0 on Matcday 6. Borussia Dortmund squeaked into the round of 16 with just about the last kick of their game against Marseille. Seeing Gonzalo Higuain cry reminded me of why a Group of Death stresses me out. Inevitably, hearts get broken.

    Zenit St. Petersburg followed Atletico Madrid out of Group G, giving me a perfect record in this group and ensuring that I get to continue ogling the pretty that is Anatoliy Tymoshchuk in the next round.

    Finally, in Group H, Barcelona won the Group and AC Milan did just enough to come out runners-up. But I ran out of fucks to give about this group when I saw that Barca and Milan were drawn together again.

    So, another Group Stage ends, and draw day for the round of 16 awaits on December 16. I’ll be up bright and early for it.

    Champions League – Matchday 2

    It’s a little early to talk Champions League favorites, so while many in the football media have already pinned this label on defending champions, Bayern Munich, after just two matchdays, I’m more interested in brief takeaways from this week’s action that may or may not be relevant as the competition continues.

    • Manchester City still struggling to find its way in this competition. I guess it would help if they didn’t keep getting drawn in groups with Bayern Munich.
    • Juventus posting a second draw in a row – this time against Galatasaray. Time to worry if they’ll qualify for the round of 16?
    • Arsenal looking good – but for how long. I guess that’s been the question with Arsenal for the last few years.
    • Shakthar Donetsk still likes to give the big teams hell. Good.
    • My candidates for this season’s sleeper teams – Real Sociedad and Napoli – both lost :-/

    I know a lot of people think the Group Stage is boring, and it’s true that the big teams are usually drawn in easy(ish) groups, almost guaranteeing they’ll advance to the KO stages – but this point in the tournament is the most interesting to me, as there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two.

    In any event, I’m wary of making any big pronouncements about who will win – or even who will make the final. We’ve only just concluded Matchday 2. This competition is 9 months long, and – 2012-13 Bayern notwithstanding – it’s rare for a single team to dominate for the entirety of it. It’ll be far more interesting to see what happens when more teams have to start coping with injuries, suspensions, losses of form, etc.

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