The Hammers are having a great debut season in the Europa League. Two wins on the trot for the East Londoners. Suddenly Declan Rice is finding his scoring boots in the tournament, two in two for the England man. Should it surprise us? Rice is a player who turns up frequently in the opposition box without completely abandoning his defensive midfield responsibilities. Is there a more complete holding midfielder in England today? The system that Moyes plays allows the flair players like Benrahma to flourish knowing the defense is covered. Rapid were not so great attacking wise on the night with only one shot on target. Any long balls they tried to play to by pass the midfield were fodder to Diop and Dawson so they used the wings more. They nearly got rewarded with the penalty award which was overturned on review. Johnson the lucky man for West Ham. Rapid’s Marco Grull tripping himself or Johnson’s right foot clipping his heel? What do you think? Jarrod Bowen on 80 minutes found wanting in the composure stakes with keeper to beat, Benrahma saving his blushes.
The Europa League is back in a leaner much more competitive variation. 32 teams divided into 8 groups of 4 with the winner of each going into the last 16. The runner up faces the third placed teams in the champions league groups. So no margin for error here. Talking points from the King Power stadium. Leicester were outplayed for huge chunks of the match but on the plus side they were clinical with the few chances they got. One guy singled out for criticism since the start of the season is Harvey Barnes. He looked back to his best with great wing play for both goals. The Foxes however could not sustain large periods of possession which put the pressure on the defensive midfielders to get the ball back, resulting in unnecessary fouls, thus the red card to Ndidi late on.
On to Napoli. They are riding high on Serie A and you can see why. Even though they were 2-0 down you kind of got that feeling they will always get that goal. Confident in possession, midfield run well by Spaniard Fabian Ruiz. Nigerian Victor Osimhen beginning to justify that hefty transfer fee the Naples side paid Lille for his services. Check out the equalizing goal. There are two other players who are good at hanging in the air long enough to get a header that good on goal, Christiano Ronaldo and Lukaku. That is a huge compliment. Napoli got caught on the counter which Coach Spalletti will no doubt rue. This is a game in which a draw probably was the fairest result. Leicester’s start to the season has been poor by their standards, trying to infuse new players into their style of play may take time.
Unai Emery proving to be the master tactician who figured out the Europa League. The Spanish gaffer winning his fourth Europa having won three with Sevilla. United failing to let their dominance in normal time translate to goals. Ole getting his team selection all wrong. Starting with two defensive midfielders would not have been a bad idea given that this was a final and siding with caution wouldn’t have been held against him. Instead he started Pogba with McTominay leaving Fred on the bench. Bailly and Lindelof started in center back for United. United’s weaknesses on set pieces were shown in the build up to Moreno’s goal. Should De Gea have come out to cut the angle?
Giving Cavani chances was imperative for the English side and they hardly did that. Watch the footage a minute after half time when Bailly attempted to acrobatically clear the ball instead of heading it out. The leadership of injured captain Maguire sorely missed. Cavani doesn’t need second invitations if you give him a sight of goal. He equalized in minute 55 although fortuitously from a hit and hope shot from Rashford.
It stayed level until the lottery or casino game called penalties was needed to separate the two sides. It was a clinic on how to take penalties under pressure, both sides deserve credit.United would wonder what if , what if De Gea had gotten more of a hand on Paco Alcacer’s penalty? Should they had brought on Dean Henderson who is more of a shot stopper than the Spanish keeper? If you stand in the middle as a keeper out of ten times one of them is going straight at you, gutted none of Rulli and De Gea gambled on it. In the end a lesson on coaches. Goalkeepers need to perfect penalties too. De Gea missing the only pen should not be held against him but should serve as a reminder that the days of the specialist goalkeeper are long gone.
Well there goes the Gunners’ European hopes. Sterile in front of goal, Arsenal flattered to deceive in the Europa League again this season. Needing nothing short of a victory, Mikel Arteta’s men fired blanks and it was inexcusable given the arsenal they had on the pitch on Thursday night.Odegaard, Saka, Auba,Smith Rowe and Pepe all started in a fearsome front five. The best chance of the first half fell to Hector Bellerin, the Spaniard’s shot clipping the outside of the post. Nigerian Samuel Chukwueze suffered a worrying injury mid first half and was replaced by Pinto. It did not change much though in terms of the result.
On another day the soccer gods might have smiled on Arsenal. Watch Aubameyang’s shot on 38 minutes which yellow submarine’s goalie Rulli allowed to go through his legs and was fortunate his bum took the sting out of the shot. At half time we figured Arteta’s plan was to keep a clean sheet and nick a goal to win on the away goal’s rule. This was however no time for defending ,they had to take the game to the Spanish side. No champagne football, just pump balls into the Villarreal 18 yard box. In the second half they didn’t do that. At least until the final 15 minutes. Watch Smith Rowe try to be cheeky and aim for the far right post and in the process put the ball wide. Villarreal came for the draw and they got it, they did not threaten Leno all that much in the second, the dangerous Moreno had a tame shot saved by the German keeper on 56.Aubameyang struck the post on 78 minutes with a header that was going in had Rulli not got a hand to it. BEST CHANCE OF THE MATCH by far.
Villarreal through to their fist European final in Gdansk, Poland. They face Man United who had a sizeable cushion such that the defeat in Rome was academic on Thursday. Arsenal NOW NEED A MIRACLE TO GET INTO the Europa League next season. They trail 6th place Spurs by 7 points with 4 to play in the Premier League.
After this match the road to Gdansk for the Red devils has got a whole lot clearer. Shades of 2007. United had a second half to saver coming from a 1-2 half time deficit to win 6-2. Braces from Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes helped win this one. The industriousness of Bruno was on show at Old Trafford. Roma deserve credit as well. They did not come to get a draw here and although they were outplayed for swathes of the match they were by no means negative. We like the fact that the referee was consistent in giving the penalty decisions although both are debatable. So glad for once the officials did much influence on the result.
Bruno was involved in the first 5 goals and Mason Greenwood put the icing on the cake to another memorable European performance. A cynic would say United conceding two goals is a indictment to their defense. True to an extent. Roma are known for overhauling a 4-1 champions league first leg deficit against FC Barcelona in 2018 quarterfinals so United better not rest on their laurels.