A big win for little Villarreal!
Villarreal took on Man United in Gdansk, Poland for the Europa League final on Wednesday night. It was a great affair with several Villarreal fans in attendance while United had a good portion as well. The town that Villarreal is based out of has a population of about 50,000 people anyways so it’s not some tall order. United selected its usual lineup with one change. De Gea was in goal with Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Lindelof, and Shaw in defence. Pogba dropped into the midfield alongside McTominay. Rashford, Greenwood, Bruno and Cavani started up front. It was a good team on the face of it. Villarreal stuck with their 4-4-2. Rulli in goal, Foyth, Albiol, Torres, and Alfonso in defence. Pino, Capoue, Parejo, and Trigueros in midfield while Bacca and Moreno started up front. Two very strong teams but it was a battle between two managers.
It was a balanced game with Villarreal drawing first blood as Moreno scored from a set piece to give Emery and co the lead in the 29th minute. United could not equalise in the 1st half but Cavani managed to do it in the 2nd half as the ball ricochetted around the box and fell the Uruguayan who tapped it in the 55th minute. Villarreal made some changes to keep the team fresh but both teams are quite defensive so neither could break the other down. The game continued to go on past extra time and into penalties. Ole had made no changes for the whole game and only brought on the likes of James, Tuanzebe, Fred and Telles in extra time for penalties. The penalties also kept on going with De Gea not being able to save any of Villarreal’s 11 penalties. Rulli came close on numerous occasions but finally managed to save De Gea’s penalty as Villarreal won their first European trophy.
Given Villarreal’s story and what was a stake it was a big win for them. They had to win to avoid playing in the Conference League and now they will be in Pot 1 of the Champions League. Their town of 50,000 people get something to shout about. Emery becomes the first manager to win 4 Europa League trophies showing that it was probably Arsenal who were the problem and not him. For Ole and United they end the season with a solitary 2nd place finish. Ole showed no tactical awareness or capability of making substitutions while the defence was poor again. It was the same trick as he hoped that some of his individual talents would strike and bounce back in the 2nd half. The luck ran out. In any ordinary club it would be curtains or at the very least serious questions around Ole but Ole is most likely to get a new contract. There are several managers now looking for jobs and one would wonder if United should pounce and try to get a Zidane or Poch.
A positive night for Villarreal and one their town can be proud of for many many years to come.
The teaser to the main event on Saturday!
It’s Europa League Final time as La Liga side Villarreal will be playing Premier League side Man United in Gdansk, Poland on Wednesday night. It’s been a lengthy season and its the final game for both these teams. As things stand Villarreal will be playing in the European Conference League next season but if they win they go straight into the Champions League. Man United have already sealed a Champions League place but they haven’t won a trophy under Ole yet and that is their goal. I would say there is pressure on both teams and but if a team has more to gain from the win it is Villarreal.
Villarreal topped their Europa League group winning 5 and drawing 1 of their six games. In the Round of 32 they beat RB Salzburg 4-1 over two legs. Round of 16 they beat Dynamo Kyiv 4-0. In the Quarter Finals they beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-1 over two legs. In the Semi Finals they beat Arsenal 1-2 over two legs. Some tricky games there but all very manageable for Unai Emery and his team. Villarreal have never won the Europa League but Unai Emery has won it 3 times in a row with Sevilla so there is plenty of experience on that front. Going into the game on Wednesday Villarreal have won 3 and lost 2 of their last 5 games.
Man United’s Europa League journey began in the Round of 16 after they finished 3rd in the Champions League Group Stage. First up was AC Milan who they beat 1-2 over two legs. Next up was Granada in the Quarters who they beat 4-0 over two legs. They got Roma in the Semi’s who they beat 8-5 on aggregate. This might be tougher opposition and you may be thinking wow United beat some good teams but no there is always context. AC Milan were a depleted team when they faced United and didn’t have several key players available. Roma had a really poor 45 minutes in Manchester which took the tie away from them. In Rome De Gea saved United from the blushes of being knocked out. United won the Europa League most recently with Jose Mourinho in 2017. That also happened to be United’s last trophy. United go into this game having won 2, lost 2 and drawn 1 of their last five games.
Villarreal Team Preview
Villarreal have a good group of players available to them. Rulli has been a good goalkeeper for them while defenders like Pau Torres are attracting attention from top clubs and Albiol has been a stalwart for many seasons now. They also have Alberto Moreno who many might remember from Liverpool. Their midfield of Parejo and Capoue is a solid one while the likes of Trigueros can cause damage from the wings. Bacca, Moreno, Alcacer are just some of the great options they have up front for them. Moreno has been their standout player up front with 29 goals and 11 assists this season. Alcacer is next up with 12 goals and 5 assists. Chukwueze will be a miss for them as he is out injured. It’s a solid team and capable of winning a final for sure, but they will have to be clinical in front of goal. United have been outplayed by several teams this season, but because those teams have not been clinical United have walked away with a point or more.
Man United Team Preview
United will be without Martial but apart from that they have a fit squad. Ole rested almost all of his players on the final day of the season so they basically have a good week of rest going into this game. Henderson and De Gea has been a debate for many this season and a problem of United’s own making but if you ask me its because of De Gea that they have even reached the final so he should start. Maguire is injured but he could start which wouldn’t be smart given Moreno Bacca and Alacer but to each his own. A back four of Wan Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, and Shaw is almost certain. A midfield two of McTominay and Fred with Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford behind Cavani is how United should set up going forward. It’s a nailed on team from Ole. What Ole does have is some really good individual talents namely Bruno Fernandes and Cavani but if you stop those two and keep Pogba quite you basically have United thwarted. United are a 45 minute team. They could blitz you in 45 minutes and they tend to respond better if they go a goal down. United are also a very lucky team and Ole is a very lucky manager. Ole will go back to relying on counter attacking football for this game and hope that the pace up front can help them win.
Starting XI Prediction
It’s going to be a big game in Gdansk. Emery for sure is the one who has been there and done it several times in the Europa League and won titles with several other teams. Ole is relying on Bruno, Cavani, and De Gea to get him silverware. It’s going to be a close game but I have a feeling Villarreal could win their first trophy and Emery his 4th Europa League.
All English finals but 1!
Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg
Man City 2 (4) vs. (1) 0 Paris Saint Germain
Mahrez scored in the 11th minute and in the 63rd minute while Di Maria was sent off for PSG in the 69th minute as Man City finally reached their first Champions League final. Pep’s first Champions League final since 2010-11. PSG really didn’t cause any damage and funnily enough they looked like Spurs at the Battle of the Bridge no mentality what so ever. It looks like Pochettino has transferred the Spurs psyche to Paris. City now travel to Istanbul where they will play Chelsea for the Champions League trophy.
Europa League Semi-Finals 2nd Leg
AS Roma 3 (5) vs. (8) 2 Man United
Roma needed to score a minimum of 4 and they almost managed that if it wasn’t for De Gea and his world class saves and Cavani’s lethal finishes up front. Cavani scored in the 39th minute to give United the lead. Dzeko, and Cristante scored within 60 minutes in the 2nd half to cause United some problems. By that time De Gea had made around 4-5 world class saves to keep United in the game. Cavani then scored again in the 68th minute but Telles scored an own goal in the 83rd minute to give Roma a consolation win. Roma based on the match deserved to go through but De Gea’s class shined bright and United book their first final under Ole where they will play Villarreal.
Arsenal 0 (1) vs. (2) 0 Villarreal
Villarreal are through. Emery is through. He gets the job done against the club that sacked him. He beat the manager that replaced him. Arteta and Arsenal had no ideas whatsoever and bar Aubameyang hitting the post there was no indication that Arsenal would win. Villarreal reach their first European final where they will face off against Man United and they have every chance of winning that game. Arsenal are not officially a mid table club.
Who’s going to make the finals in Europe?
Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg
Man City (2) vs. (1) Paris Saint Germain
City got two massive away goals in the 1st leg which means that PSG need to score a minimum of 2 goals to reach the final. City are looking to make their first final and won at the weekend while PSG also won at the weekend. The game is finely poised but PSG will have to be way better than they were in the 1st leg to reach a 2nd successive final. Pep hasn’t reached a final since Barcelona while Poch is looking to reach his 2nd Champions League final. It’s a big one.
Europa League Semi-Final 2nd Leg
AS Roma (2) vs. (6) Man United
Roma did so well for 45 minutes in the 1st leg but United finished them off in the 2nd half of the game. Roma would have to score 4 goals without reply to reach the final which is a daunting task. United really only need to hold on and get an away goal to book a place in the final. Roma lost at the weekend while United didn’t play Liverpool because the fans entered Old Trafford and damaged property. Either way bar some miracle Man United and Ole should reach their first final under the Norwegian.
Arsenal (1) vs. (2) Villarreal
Arsenal managed to get a crucial away goal in the 1st leg which means that they need to score a goal without reply to reach the final. Villarreal can create a problem if they score 1 goal which would mean that Arsenal would have to score a minimum of 2 without conceding to take the game to extra time at least. Arsenal won at the weekend while Villarreal also won at the weekend. Emery is one of the most successful managers in Europa League history and it would be sweet for him if he beat Arsenal. Arsenal are looking to reach the final mainly because it’s their only way into the Champions League for next season but the same can be said for Villarreal. An interesting game.
Finely poised games!
Champions League Semi-Final 1st Leg
Paris Saint Germain 1 vs. 2 Man City
It was a game of two halves. Marquinhos got the lead for PSG in the 15th minute and they dominated the 1st half against PSG. City though came out for the 2nd half and totally dominated the game. They pressed PSG and showed energy that the French team lacked. De Bruyne got the equaliser in the 64th minute which was a cross that creeped into the corner. Mahrez then got the winner in the 71st minute after his free kick went through the PSG wall like two doors opening. PSG then had Gueye sent off in the 77th minute for a dangerous tackle on Gundogan. PSG totally flopped in the 2nd half but they are not out of it yet. A big game ahead for them. City have the advantage.
Europa League Semi-Final 1st Leg
Man United 6 vs. 2 AS Roma
This game was a typical Manchester United game of two halves. Fernandes got United the lead in the 9th minute but Pellegrini equalised for Roma from the penalty spot in the 15th minute. Dzeko then gave Roma the lead in the 33rd minute as United failed to capitalise on the chances they created. Roma also had to make 3 substitutions in the 1st half due to injures. United came out with a different intent in the 2nd half and Cavani equalised for United in the 48th minute. Cavani then made it 3 in the 64th minute while Bruno made it 4 via a customary penalty in the 71st minute. Pogba then made it 5 in the 75th minute while Greenwood made it 6 in the 86th minute. United break the semi-final curse under Ole and even though there is a 2nd leg it should be no more than a formality. United have reached the Europa League final.
Villarreal 2 vs. 1 Arsenal
Trigueros scored within 5 minutes to give Villarreal the lead while Albiol made it 2 in the 29th minute. Arsenal were extremely poor and Arteta had picked a weird formation where Pepe started up top. Ceballos was then sent off for Arsenal in the 57th minute but Villarreal somehow suffered after it. Pepe got one goal back from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute. Capoue was then sent off for Villarreal in the 80th minute. Villarreal have the advantage but Arsenal do have an away goal to build on.
Champions League Semi-Final 1st Leg
Paris Saint Germain vs. Man City
PSG have hit form since their quarter-final win over Bayern winning 3 of their last 3 games. Man City have played in 3 competitions since beating Dortmund. They lost the FA Cup semi-final, won in the league and then beat Spurs to win the Carabao Cup for the 4th year in a row. This is a massive game and PSG are flying the flag for UEFA when it comes to a team that did not join the now defunct Super League. The Champions League has been the trophy that has eluded Pep since his Barcelona days and City have never won it. A game between two very rich clubs and the Pep, and Poch history is fiery as well. This game should be an absolute firecracker. PSG will want to keep a clean sheet while City will be looking at getting a few away goals.
Europa League Semi-Final 1st Leg
Man United vs. AS Roma
Manchester United reach another semi-final under Ole and this time they will want to be 5th time lucky as they look to reach the final. United have won 1 and drawn 1 since the quarters. Roma are in poor form going into the game having drawn 1 and lost 2. United are clearly the team in better form and are the favourites in this fixture. Roma have some good players but they will have to be at their best to reach the final. This is an interesting game and United are a beatable team. If Roma can get a couple of away goals it would be massive for them.
Villarreal vs. Arsenal
Villarreal managed by one Unai Emery take on Arsenal which happens to be Emery’s previous club. Villarreal have won 1 and lost 2 since the quarters while Arsenal have drawn 1 and lost 1. Two teams that are at similar stages in their season. Neither team is flying high and the Europa League is their only realistic chance at reaching the Champions League. For Emery it’s a chance to show that Arsenal were wrong to sack him while for Arsenal and Arteta they are just trying to reach a final once again. It should be a fiery game.
Teams with the advantage go through!
Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg
Paris Saint Germain 0 (3) vs. (3) 1 Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich always had to score a minimum of 2 goals but they could not and over 2 legs PSG were the better team. Choupo-Moting got the only goal of the game in the 40th minute. PSG head into the semi-finals while the holders Bayern are knocked out and can now focus on securing the Bundesliga.
Liverpool 0 (1) vs. (3) 0 Real Madrid
No Anfield miracle for Liverpool this time as once again they fail to beat a team from Madrid in the Champions League. Liverpool dominated the first half but failed ot finish any of their chances. Real Madrid managed the game well and went through. Liverpool have the top four to focus on now while Real Madrid are still fighting on 2 fronts.
Dortmund 1 (2) vs. (4) 2 Man City
Bellingham scored in the 15th minute to give Dortmund the lead and for 45 minutes in the game it looked like Dortmund were going into the semi-final. It was always going to be City though and Mahrez scored a penalty in the 55th minute while Foden scored in the 75th minute to seal the win for City. Man City and Pep finally reach a semi-final while Dortmund now have a mountain to climb in the Bundesliga as they look to get top four.
Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg
Slavia Praha 0 (1) vs. (5) 4 Arsenal
Pepe, Lacazette, and Saka scored in the 1st half while Lacazette scored again the 2nd half as Arsenal got a massive win against Slavia. Slavia have been in the middle of some racist activity and it was good to see Arsenal knock them out. Arsenal now set up a semi-final as the Europa League remains their realistic chance of Champions League football.
Villarreal 2 (3) vs. (1) 1 Dinamo Zagreb
Alcacer, and Moreno scored in the first half while Orsic got one back for Zagreb in the 2nd half. Villarreal go through and Emery sets up a mouth watering clash against his former side Arsenal in the semi-final.
Man United 2 (4) vs. (0) 0 Granada
Cavani scored in the 6th minute and Vallejo scored an own goal in the 90th minute as United once again failed to dazzle but went through into the semi-final. United still have a chance at getting silverware while Granada valiantly drop out.
AS Roma 1 (3) vs. (2) 1 Ajax
Brobbey scored in the 49th minute to give Ajax the lead but Dzeko scored in the 72nd minute to get the draw and seal progression to the next round. Roma stand a realistic chance of winning the Europa League as they chase Champions League Football while Ajax are once again knocked out of European football.
Who will make the semi’s in Europe?
Champions League Quarter-Finals 2nd Leg
Paris Saint Germain (3) vs. (2) Bayern Munich
PSG go into this game with 3 away goals in the bank. They won comfortably at the weekend as well so there is some good momentum. Bayern Munich drew at the weekend and having lost in the 1st leg they are looking to bounce back. Bayern need to score a minimum of 2 goals without a reply to reach the semi’s. If PSG continue to get goals Bayern need to reply back with more as well. The pressure is on Bayern going into this 2nd leg.
Liverpool (1) vs. (3) Real Madrid
Liverpool lost dismally in Madrid but came back to win in the league during the weekend. Real beat Liverpool and then beat Barcelona at the weekend as they look to come back and win titles on both fronts. Liverpool have an away goal and would need to score 2 without reply to reach the semi’s. If Real score a goal or more then the pressure would really pile on Klopp and co. It’s a big game but based on form and the way the teams are playing Real Madrid have the upper hand in this game.
Dortmund (1) vs. (2) Man City
Dortmund did well to get an away goal in the 1st leg and arguably should have had 2. City managed to win the 1st leg but lost at the weekend to Leeds. Dortmund won at the weekend. Dortmund need to score a goal without reply to get into the semi’s. If City manage to score though Dortmund will face an uphill task. I have an interesting feeling about this game and I think Dortmund are capable of an upset here.
Europa League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg
Slavia Praha (1) vs. (1) Arsenal
Slavia won at the weekend and got a crucial away goal against Arsenal in the 1st leg. Arsenal won at the weekend as well but were poor miserable in their finishing in the 1st leg. Slavia have the advantage and Arsenal need to score to reach the semis. The more Arsenal score the more of an advantage they get. The ball is in Arsenal’s court but it will be tricky.
Villarreal (1) vs. (0) Dinamo Zagreb
Villarreal got a crucial away goal in the 1st leg but lost in La Liga at the weekend. Dinamo lost in the 1st leg but won in their league at the weekend. Emery is the Europa League professional and he has the away goal. Villarreal need to keep a clean sheet to reach the semis at the minimum. Zagreb need to score 2 goals to reach the semis while a goal without reply would take him to extra time. An interesting game but I think Villarreal will go through.
Man United (2) vs. (0) Granada
United were 2nd best in Spain in the 1st leg but they got 2 away goals and have set themselves up to reach the semis. Granada have to score a minimum of 2 goals without reply to take the game to extra time. Granada will have to score 3 goals to win this game. Both teams won at the weekend as well but United should reach the next round.
AS Roma (2) vs. (1) Ajax
Roma scored 2 away goals and won the 1st leg while Ajax managed to get 1 goal. Both teams won at the weekend in their respective leagues. Ajax need to score a minimum of 2 goals without reply to reach the semis. Roma are in decent position but Ajax are no pushovers and the Romans will have to be vigilant. The most interesting game in this round of the Europa League.
Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
Real Madrid 3 vs. 1 Liverpool
Vinicius and Asensio scored in 1st half while Salah got one back in the 51st minute before Vinicius added a 3rd in the 65th minute. A big win for Real Madrid as they prove their quality while Liverpool seem to have flattered to deceive against Arsenal at the weekend. Advantage Real Madrid but Liverpool have a glimmer of hope with that away goal.
Man City 2 vs. 1 Dortmund
De Bruyne scored in the 19th minute and it looked like it would be a big win for the home team. Dortmund grew back into the game and had a goal by Bellingham ridiculously disallowed by the joke of a referee. Dortmund finally equalised in the 84th minute via Reus but Foden grabbed the winner in the 90th minute. City get the win but Dortmund have a crucial away goal. All to play for in the 2nd leg and Dortmund will be hoping that they don’t see that referee ever again.
Bayern Munich 2 vs. 3 Paris Saint Germain
Mbappe scored within 3 minutes to give PSG the lead in what was a snowy night in Munich. Marquinhos made it 0-2 for PSG in the 28th minute after a brilliant pass by Neymar. Choupo-Moting got one back for Bayern in the 37th minute and Bayern equalised in the 2nd half via Muller in the 60th minute. Mbappe then scored the winner in the 68th minute. PSG get 3 big away goals but Bayern were the better team and they were wasteful in their finishing and defending. Bayern are still very much in the game but have an uphill task.
Europa League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
Arsenal 1 vs. 1 Slavia Praha
This game was a snooze fest. Lacazette missed an absolute sitter in the 2nd half before Pepe finally gave the Gunners a lead in the 86th minute. Slavia though got the equaliser right before full time. A big away goal for Slavia and based on the performance they should go through in the 2nd leg. Arsenal have chances but they can’t play any worse.
Granada 0 vs. 2 Man United
United were abysmal during the game and Granada probably deserved a point mainly because they played the better football and actually took the game to United. One ball over the top in the 1st half found Rashford who finished to make it 0-1. Fernandes then got his customary penalty before half time to make it 0-2. United are probably through into the semis but Granada have nothing to lose going into the 2nd leg.
Ajax 1 vs. 2 AS Roma
Klaassen scored in the 39th minute to give Ajax the lead. Roma mounted a 2nd half comeback as Pellegrini scored in the 57th minute while Ibanez got the winner in the 87th minute. Two big away goals for Roma as they go into the 2nd leg while Ajax have an uphill task going into the 2nd leg.
Dinamo Zagreb 0 vs. 1 Villarreal
Moreno scored a penalty in the 44th minute and Villarreal held on for the win as they keep a clean sheet and get a crucial away goal. Advantage to Emery and team with Dinamo having to do all the hard work in the 2nd leg.
Serie A (Games in hand)
Juventus beat Napoli 2-1 while Inter beat Sassuolo 2-1. Inter go 11 points clear of Milan at the top of the table with 9 games to go. Juventus go into 3rd with the win and a point behind Milan as they fight to get into 2nd. A one horse race in Italy for now and bar any drastic turn around Conte and Inter are looking at the title and ending Juventus’s run, a run which Conte started.
Europe heats up!
Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
Real Madrid vs. Liverpool
Real Madrid sit 3rd in La Liga and very much in a title race as they take on Liverpool who sit 6th in the Premier League and are chasing top four. Real Madrid go into this game having both of their games since the Round of 16 while Liverpool have also won both of their last two games. This is of course a replay of the 2018 Champions League final played over two legs. Ramos and maybe Hazard will be missing for the game while Liverpool have the usual players out. It’s an interesting game for sure and both teams will be focusing on this competition for sure.
Man City vs. Dortmund
City sit 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League and will be focusing on the Champions League for sure having won both their games since the Round of 16. Dortmund have won 1, drawn 1, and lost 1 which basically encapsulates their season as they sit 5th in the table 7 points from top four. Dortmund aren’t in great form and they would really need some big performances to get anything out of City over two legs. Haaland could cause problems for City while there are players like Hazard, Reus etc. City though are in great form and this should be a relatively easy fixture over two legs.
Bayern Munich vs. Paris Saint Germain
Bayern have won both their games since the Round of 16 and are sitting 7 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga as they take on PSG who are suffering at the moment. PSG have won 1 and lost 1 and their inconsistency this season has put them in the middle of a title race and 2nd in the table. Bayern are the favourites for the competition and while PSG beat Barcelona this will be a big test for Pochettino. It’s a big game for both teams but Bayern can probably afford to focus on PSG while PSG are fighting on all fronts. A fiery game over two legs.
Europa League Quarter-Final 1st Leg
Arsenal vs. Slavia Praha
Arsenal got through on away goals as they lost the 2nd leg in London and then have drawn 1 and lost 1 since. Slavia Praha are 14 points clear in the Czech league and have won 1 and drawn 1 since their last Europa League game as they can focus properly on the competition. Arsenal sit 10th and Arteta will also have his eyes on the Europa League but Slavia are tricky and they could cause an upset over two legs. Arsenal were terrible against Liverpool and Slavia will know there is space to take advantage.
Granada vs. Man United
Granada sit 9th in La Liga and have lost their last 3 including the Round of 16 2nd leg but they managed to get through on away goals. United are 9 points clear of 4th as they sit 2nd in the Premier League and Ole will be concentrating on a solid performance in the Europa League. United should comfortably win this game over two legs and will probably have it in the bag in the 1st leg itself.
Ajax vs. AS Roma
Ajax sit 11 points clear at the top of the Eredivisie while Roma sit 7th in Serie A. Its an interesting game for sure as both teams have talented players but overall Ajax are in better form albeit in a weaker league. Two teams that were fighting in the Champions League 2 seasons ago, both will want to get back into the competition. Roma might see this as the most realistic chance. Very close over two legs.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Villarreal
Zagreb sit top of the Croatian League on goal difference while Villarreal sit 6th in La Liga and are looking at the Europa League as a realistic path into the Champions League. Emery will know that a win against Zagreb sets up a game against Arsenal and he will have a personal vendetta against the Gunners after the way he was treated by the club.
Serie A (Games in hand)
Juventus take on Napoli as they play their game in hand. Juventus can go into 3rd with a win while Napoli can go into 4th with the a win which would mean that Juventus dropped out of the top four. A big game for both teams. Inter take on Sassuolo and a win for Inter would take them 11 points clear at the top of the table while Sassuolo sit 9th and have no real incentive at the moment. Big games in the context of top four and the title race.