Football in Europe is finished for another calendar year. The group stages in the Europa League are in the book. So let’s check out the Europa League story so far.
The Europa League Story Recap
It is the half-century edition of the UEFA Cup/Europa League competition. Way back in August, 213 teams commenced their European journey from 55 UEFA member associations. The group stage started in earnest on October 22. 32 teams were dreaming of lifting the prestigious trophy on May 26 at the Stadion Energa Gdańsk in Poland.
Granada, playing in their first European campaign, produced a huge upset, beating perennial European competitors PSV in Eindhoven 2-1. Steven Gerrard’s Rangers secured a notable 3-3 draw at Benfica. It could have been even better, having led 3-1. Nonetheless, it was an impressive result. Lille thrashing AC Milan in the San Siro 3-0 was also a highlight grabbing result, as was Royal Antwerp defeating a talent-filled Tottenham Hotspur 1-0.
Most Impressive Teams
Arsenal won all six games, the only side to achieve the feat. Granada have had a European debut to remember by beating PSV Eindhoven and progressing through to the knockout stage. In addition the experienced veterans of Roberto Soldado and Jorge Molina have been key to their success. Meanwhile, Rangers have enjoyed a nostalgic return to European glory days, impressing throughout the group stage. The Gers topped their group ahead of Benfica no less to finish unbeaten. They secured 14 points with four wins and two draws to earn qualification.
Europa League Stand Out Performers
Uruguay striker Darwin Núñez has quickly become a focal point for Benfica. His five goals in five appearances in the competition have helped the Eagles fly to the next round. Also, the form of attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici has lit up his French club Lille with six goals in six games. This included scoring a hat trick in the San Siro against AC Milan. Remarkably, it was his second triple of the Europa League campaign after scoring three at Sparta Prague.
Moment of Controversy
The classic ‘jumpers for goalposts’ took on a new dimension when the match between Tottenham and Shkendija of North Macedonia in the preliminary round brought controversy. This was due to its incorrect goalpost measurements. Tottenham’s goalkeepers realised the goals were the wrong measurements pre-match. And, after a check from José Mourinho to the UEFA delegate, they confirmed the goalposts were 5cm too short. Subsequently, they were changed for the match. Spurs ended up prevailing 3-1 with the incident classed an honest mistake.
North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal will both continue in Europe post-Christmas. Similarly will the Italian qualifying trio of Napoli, Roma and AC Milan. So too will the Spanish armada of Real Sociedad, Granada and Villarreal, who are among the 32 entries into the next round.
Europa League Favourites
Having won the tournament with Porto, José Mourinho’s in-form Tottenham side will be primed for a good run to finally land much-coveted silverware. Moreover, AC Milan are having a renascence and with Zlatan Ibrahimović, the Italians have every chance to be victorious. So could Villarreal, who are led by Unai Emery. He won three consecutive Europa League’s with Sevilla and his team possess the potential to make it through to the final.
Also, the 2017 winners Manchester United and runners up from that year, Ajax. They enter this stage of the competition from their Champions League exits. Both inherit strong squads to go deep in the Europa League once more.