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Old Trafford Manchester United” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera

In years gone by, The Europa League (or UEFA Cup as it was once known) was perhaps looked upon a lot more fondly than it is now.

British clubs that couldn’t quite compete with the Manchester Uniteds or Arsenals of this world (think: your Aston Villas, your West Hams, your Evertons and so on) would relish the opportunity to compete on the European stage, albeit in a competition that was and still is known as the Champions League’s younger sister.

And way into the 2000s and beyond, it’s fair to say the Europa League provided a backdrop for some of European football’s most exciting matches.

Middlesbrough were the nearly men in 2006, making it to the final only to be thwarted by an unplayable Sevilla CF. Celtic often had a go and came agonisingly close, losing in the 2003 final to Porto in extra time.

Even as recently as last year, Liverpool made it all the way to the final only to lose out again to a Sevilla side who had, by that point, won the competition more times than worth bothering to count.

This year, it’s Manchester United, curiously, who are British football’s last bastion of hope left in the competition.

They currently sit at odds of 6/4 to win the competition according to the Europa League betting and on paper certainly have a side well positioned to go far. United emerged top in a recent poll by WhichBookie.co.uk which asked fans of all clubs which team they were planning to bet on to go on to win the tournament.

With the added carrot of a backdoor place into next season’s Champions League for the eventual winner, Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho now faces a serious dilemma.

Improved league form and the continued demise of Arsenal in 2017 has opened up a real opportunity for United to finish fourth in the EPL.

And now the decision rests with Jose on what his side must do next.


Manchester United” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera

 

Does he fight on both fronts, or go for the European jugular and risk not achieving anything (of note) this season?

United may still end up finishing 5th and get dumped out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage, but maybe the fans will respect Mourinho for the simple fact that he gave it a good go?

Or does he batten down the hatches and send a bunch of youth-teamers to get an honorary slaughtering in Anderlecht, thus preserving his key men for the weekend’s Premier League action?

Both options come with their health warnings of course, but judging by the strength in depth United have in their squad, what is clear is that Jose doesn’t have to choose one or the other.

Over £100 million was spent on new recruits at Old Trafford last summer, so coping with two games per week for the duration of a season should well be within the realms of capability for United’s stars.

As Mourinho rightly pointed out in a press conference last week, many of United’s squad, i.e. Paul Pogba at Juventus or Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Dortmund, would still be playing in the Champions League right now if it weren’t for their move to the red side of Manchester last year.

Perhaps with the World Cup 2018 qualifiers the object of our focus for the next seven days, things will become clearer once Mourinho can count up how many of his stars make it back injury-free following their respective international games. In other words, luck on the treatment table may play a bigger part in his decision than we think.

As a partisan follower of any club from Blighty that can make their mark in European football, here’s to hoping that Pogba, Mkhitaryan and the rest of United’s international stars come out of March’s international break unscathed and ready to fight for silverware in a competition which has eluded British clubs for far too long now.

Thursday Terrors Ahead

by Fans Zone on

Most of the English representatives in the Champions and Europa Leagues are fairly confident of making it through to the knock-out stages. But there are two notable exceptions. Manchester United are already in the Europa League and away form is threatening their qualification hopes. Meanwhile, home form is threatening to dump Spurs into the Europa League. Can Mourinho and Pochettino somehow avert disaster and ensure qualification?

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Not Home Sweet Home

Winning your home games is so important but for Spurs that’s definitely not the case in their Champions League group. Rather than hosting their group opponents at White Hart Lane, they’re playing at Wembley and so far it’s proving to be a right old disaster. Two home games against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen have both ended in home defeats. Few sides can afford to do that and survive in European competition though their boss denies playing there is a factor. Do Spurs really want to end up in the Europa League because that’s how it’s looking at the present time…

Two away games have produced four points but with just two games to go, Spurs find themselves in the Thursday night position aka third and being chucked into the Europa League. They trail second-placed Leverkusen by two points and group leaders Monaco by four. Their next game really is the crunch one with a trip to Monaco on 22 November. A loss there would all but end their hopes of qualification and make their final ‘home’ game a Europa League qualification shoot-out against CSKA Moscow who could well still be in the hunt for a top-two place if they can beat Leverkusen at home on the 22nd.

It’s not just playing on a ground that is bound to get their opponents even more up for the challenge. Spurs have been struggling for a few weeks now both in Europe and the Premier League. Despite an unbeaten run at the start of the season they are losing ground on the league leaders with far too many draws. The goals aren’t flowing with a total reliance on penalties in recent weeks.and they desperately need Harry Kane to get fully fit. It’s looking a bit bleak really having already lost to Monaco once in the group stages. The way it’s going, Thursday night football might be the best they can hope for and might not even get that.

Away-Day Horrors for United

Jose Mourinho doesn’t always have the happiest expression on his face but perhaps he has a reason at present. From recent interviews though we know he’s not having the happiest of times at Old Trafford. Their quest for a return of their Premier League glory days isn’t going great and it’s not going too well in Europe either.

Manchester United

United fans are used to the great occasions when they host the best that Europe has to offer. They aren’t too used to having to go onto the web to try and work out where Zorya Luhansk are, let alone what they are like as a football team. It took United ages to break them down and get a win at Old Trafford and a more comprehensive win over Fenerbache followed. The trouble with United is they have lost both of their away games at Feyenoord and Fenerbache and with just two matches to play they are down in third in the group, a point adrift of Dutch league leaders Feyenoord and leaders Fenerbache.

United take on Feyenoord at home on the 24th, a game they really have to get a win from if they want to progress. Mourinho will change his side around as he seems to continually do these days. With a six-point gap between United and the top four in the Premier League, winning the Europa League might be the only way they get back into the Champions League but at the time of writing United are 4/11 with Betway to defeat Feyenoord. The team need to find consistency or it could be a worrying night for them away to Zorya if their fans work out where it is!

Southgate has two more games to earn England job

by Fans Zone on

When Sam Allardyce left his position as England manager back in September, Gareth Southgate was handed the reins in a caretaker capacity for four games.We are now halfway through those four ties so Southgate has just two more opportunities to earn the position on a full-time basis, if of course he wants the job.

Gareth Southgate

Southgate won his first game in charge of England with a 2-0 victory coming at Wembley over Malta. The Three Lions were expected to roll over the minnows of international football but could only find the back of the net on two occasions against a side which was made up solely of part-time players.

Just days later, he took his squad to Slovenia in what was always going to be a much tougher assignment. England came away from that game with a 0-0 draw following a lacklustre display, however, it could be argued it was a point gained rather than two points lost.

Unless England show much more in their next two games against Scotland and Spain respectively, it is difficult to say Southgate has done enough to merit the chance to lead the national team towards the World Cup in Russia in 2018. England are expected to beat Scotland, they are 4/11 in the bet365 international football betting markets, while they will be marginal favourites to get the better of Spain in their friendly.

After things went terribly wrong in France back in the summer at Euro 2016, losing to Iceland in the last 16 of the competition, the FA thought they had got their appointment right when Allardyce became Roy Hodgson’s replacement. Things started well for Big Sam as he won his first game in charge with a 1-0 win coming away to Slovakia, leaving England very optimistic about the future.

Sadly Allardyce was not able to continue in his role with England, therefore the FA are under even more pressure to get their next appointment right. The association will be desperate to avoid any further embarrassments to them or the position and that is going to be a considerable factor when it comes to Allardyce’s successor.

Southgate has worked with the FA since 2011 when he accepted a role as head of elite development. He then went on to become the England under-21 manager in 2013 where he has been very successful, with the highlight being their Toulon tournament win earlier this year, England’s first success in the competition in 22 years.

Although Southgate is unlikely to be involved in any scandals, he has not done enough on his CV to justify being hand the job. Instead England have a choice of experienced managers who are out of work. Roberto Mancini is the pick of that bunch. The former Inter Milan boss has worked in England so knows English football very well.

Roberto Mancini apre alla Nazionale: ''Verreri di corsa''

Mancini was known at Manchester City for getting the best of out of some hard to handle players such as Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez. If the FA are happy to appoint a foreign manager again, Mancini could be the right man to lead England into the future.

It’s only a game?

by Fans Zone on

It’s 3.55pm Sunday. I’m face down on my very clean carpet mumbling to myself wondering things like “why?”, “we are always losing to them!” and “anyone but Rooney, anyone”…

You know, things like that. When my wife walks in wondering why it’s gone quiet to see this pitiful sight and to say “it’s only a game hun”, “there’ll be another one next week and maybe you could win that one”..!! Don’t get me wrong, I love my I wife, I love her to bits, she is the mother of my children, she is the apple of my eye, I would kill for that woman – but sometimes she has the worst timing!

Yes, she is right, normally losses against teams don’t affect me at all, but yesterday’s game was against Manchester United. Manchester bloody United and in recent history my face on my carpet has become a regular thing. Everything about Liverpool versus Manchester United is different to every other game – the build up in the week to the game is always full of excitement and anxiety, counting down ..every min, hour, day. Nothing else in that week is important. Yes yes yes my kids, wife and job yes, but mentally everything is about that game.

On the day of the game I have nothing but nervous energy, this time around that nervous energy went into cleaning the carpet and I mean scrubbing, vacuuming and stain removal just to get rid of that energy. Five minutes before the game I’m in pieces. During the game, depending on what happens I am up and down like a yo yo, screaming like a banshee if we score, screaming like a banshee if we concede, screaming like a banshee if the referee doesn’t give a penalty or free kick. In fact generally just screaming like a banshee through the whole game.

Then at the final whistle, feeling very down and depressed and as stated earlier – face down on my carpet. A win against Manchester United would put me in ecstasy for weeks, a loss not just puts me in a sulk for that day, not even the next day but probably for the week, maybe sometimes for the month. I can’t explain this to my wife, I’ve tried but she can’t get her head around it. And as I am face down in my carpet I realise I’ve got to wait until next season for revenge, but at least I can say “what a good job I’ve done on the carpet”… Sniff sniff .

Arm (Hounslow)

Is This The End Of The Road For Jose?

by Fans Zone on

Some fans will say it’s been a long time coming. Others will preach patience and say he should be given more time to turn things around. But whichever side of the fence you sit on, the fact remains that the Chelsea board are meeting today to discuss the future of Jose Mourinho as manager. And that normally means one thing – that his P45 will be in the mail over the next few days.

Chelsea fans will not be happy. They have made it very clear in public that the manager has their backing. The incessant chanting of his name at recent matches proves that he is still the choice of the majority. But at the end of the day there is only one man who matters, and that is Roman Abramovic.

Worryingly for the fans, he is not a man who is renowned for his patience with managers. In fact, it’s only because Jose is Jose that he’s lasted as long as he has. The big ego, the past successes, and the feeling that Roman regrets getting rid of him the first time, are the major factors that explain why Mourinho wasn’t sacked weeks ago.

Fans have a good deal of power when it comes to getting rid of managers, as the likes of David Moyes and Alan Pardew will testify. When it comes to keeping managers, there is less of a track record. In general, this level of under-performance would have the crowd clamouring for a change. This time, Chelsea fans clearly feel they have the best man for the job, and that he will turn things around in time. Time, however, is not something that most managers are afforded in the modern game.

If Mourinho does lose his job it will be interesting to see whether Abramovic makes his next appointment with the fans in mind. Guus Hiddink was hugely popular at the Bridge when he took temporary charge of Chelsea last time. Would his appointment be enough to placate fans who would be clearly upset at the second departure of their special one? We shall see…