Friday, March 15, 2024

Premier League in Europe

Arsenal advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2010 after a gritty 1-0 victory and subsequent penalty shootout win over Porto. The Portuguese, led by their venerable captain Pepe, carried a one goal advantage into the second leg at the Emirates on Tuesday and employed their low block defense once again to choke off Arsenal’s normally free flowing attack. The tactic worked but for one incisive pass by Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard which set up Leandro Trossard’s goal in the 41st minute of Tuesday’s otherwise scoreless match. The aggregate 1-1 stalemate for the two-leg tie was then decided in penalty kicks. Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya helped justify his acquisition by the club earlier this season by saving not one but two Porto kicks as the Gunner penalty takers were perfect on all four of their tries. Raya’s heroics and the recent form of Kai Havertz help validate the moves supported by Manager Mikel Arteta to add those players, moves which were not universally welcomed by supporters and pundits.

The Gunners now move on to a colorful quarterfinal which will feature Harry Kane returning to London as Bayern Munich have been matched with Arsenal in the next round. Kane has been outstanding in his maiden season in Germany, scoring 30 goals in his 25 Bundesliga matches. His club has not fared nearly as well, however, as the perennial German champions are 10 points behind Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen, leading to an already decided end of season departure for Bayern Munich Manager Thomas Tuchel.

Manchester City have also been drawn to a glamor tie as the defending Champions League titlist Citizens will face 14-time champion Real Madrid. The retooled Spanish side is once again atop the La Liga table with 20-year-old Englishman Jude Bellingham now featuring in a starring role. Arsenal and Manchester City will face each other in the Champions League semifinals if both survive their quarterfinal challenges.

Liverpool routed Sparta Prague by a 6-1 margin on Thursday, routing their Czech opponent by an aggregate 11-2 margin to advance to the Europa League quarterfinals where the opponent will be Serie A side Atalanta. The Italian side is currently sixth in the Serie A table and have yet to lose a Europa League match this season. Liverpool, clearly one of the Europa League favorites, remains in the hunt for four trophies as Manager Jurgen Klopp’s conducts his farewell tour.

West Ham has a horror draw in their Europa League quest. David Moyes’s side advanced by hammering FC Freiburg 5-0 at London Stadium, overcoming a first leg 1-0 deficit. As a reward, the Premier Leaguers have been matched against Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans, managed by Xabi Alonso in his first season with the club, are the only undefeated team in Europe’s top five leagues. Alonso has been rumored to be a potential replacement for both Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel at Bayern Munich. Robeto De Zerbi has also been connected with Liverpool rumors, but his star has faded a bit with recent results. His Brighton side limped out of the Europa League despite a 1-0 win over Roma Thursday. The Seagulls had needed to overcome a four-goal deficit suffered in the opening leg in Rome. Brighton remains on the fringe of European qualification for next year, sitting ninth in the current Premier League table.

In Europa Conference League play, Aston Villa cruised at home by a 4-0 margin over Ajax on Thursday. In so doing, the Villans advanced to the quarter finals of a major European competition for the first time since 1998. Aston Villa will be matched against Ligue 1 side Lille in that next round.

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