This season, for the first time in the history of the Champions League and the Europa League, the knock-out stages of the current campaigns are taking place at the same time as the qualification rounds of the next campaign. Of course, it’s also for the first time in the history of these two competitions that the knock-out stages are decided with just one tie, instead of a home game and an away game. In other words, the 2019-20 European competitions are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
The upside is, of course, that as football enthusiasts, top-level and more importantly high-stakes games are being played and broadcast almost every night during this month of August. The stadiums might still be empty, but the excitement and drama are still there so grab your free bets if you can! Just ask Atalanta or Paris Saint Germain where the betting odds on the winner turned dramatically in the last few minutes. With the Europa League semi-finals set for August 16th and 17th, we will be taking a quick look at what happened in the quarter-finals. The next part of this mini-series will be a preview of what can be expected of the tournament’s semi-finals.
Inter Milan – Bayer Leverkusen (2-1)
Most of the fire in the first quarter-final of the 2019-20 Europa League quarter-final between Inter and Leverkusen burned in the first half hour of the game. It was Nicoló Barella who scored the opener in the 16th minute from a rebound after a Romelu Lukaku shot and it was the ex-Everton man himself who scored the second one just six minutes later. The powerful Belgian international is the first player in Europa League/UEFA Cup history to score at least once in 9 consecutive games.
Those who thought that this quick second goal locked down the game for the Italians were mistaken though, because it took Leverkusen talisman (and alleged Chelsea target) Kai Havertz just 4 minutes to get the German side back in the game after a wonderful one-two with Kevin Volland. Over the remainder of the game, Inter dominated (the VAR also ruled out two Inter penalties for which Lukaku was already lining up) and Leverkusen had mainly goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký to thank for keeping them in the game until the end, though the Germans did manage to create a few chances as well. Overall, Inter deservedly reached the semi-finals and Antonio Conte’s look like the big favourites for the 2019-20 Europa League title.
Manchester United – FC Copenhagen (1-0)
Where Hrádecký had a huge impact on the Inter-Leverkusen game, Copenhagen shot stopper Karl-Johan Johnsson actually played the match of his life against Manchester United. Mainly thanks to his incredible goalkeeping, the Danish side managed to make it to extra time against Red Devils, where they eventually capitulated after a Bruno Fernandes penalty in the 95th minute. Overall though, and to illustrate Johnsson’s heroic display, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men recorded 14 shots on goal and 8 more attempts off target. Seen in this light, it’s not strange that the Swedish goalkeeper’s 13 saves represent the most saves made in a single Europa League game since 2009.
Despite the frustrations in front of goal, the English side actually put on a decent performance in this encounter. Both Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes hit the woodwork, while the former also saw a first-half goal ruled out by the VAR. At the same time, they limited the Danes to just a single shot on target. The English side deserved to qualify for the semi-finals, where an opponent of another calibre is waiting: 5-time Europa League/UEFA Cup winners FC Sevilla.
Shakhtar Donetsk – FC Basel (4-1)
Three of the four Europa League quarter-finals were decided by a difference of just a single goal. Only Ukranian side Shaktar Donetsk managed to win their encounter with a bigger difference as they put four past FC Basel from Switzerland, while the Swiss side netted just once, a tap-in by ex-Norwich striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel in the 93rd minute when the damage had already been done. Shakhtar had already decided the game in the first half, through a 2nd minute goal after mediocre goalkeeping on a corner followed by a deflected shot from Taison just 20 minutes later, 2-0.
That same Taison got the ball on the left side in the 73rd minute, produced an excellent dribble into the area and was brought down by a Basel defender. The resulting penalty was converted by Alan and the 3-0 score was a decent reflection of the game up until that point. The Ukranians did not take their feet of the gas though, and in the 89th minute, after a long wait due to a possible offside situation, the VAR allowed Dodo’s first and Shakhtar’s fourth goal of the evening. The victory was deserved and the Ukranian offense looked like a well-oiled machine, but their defensive set-up will need to improve for when they play Inter Milan coming Monday.
Wolves – Sevilla (0-1)
Wolves’ Europa League exit wasn’t just dramatic because of a missed Raul Jimenez penalty in the 13th minute, but also because it meant elimination from international competitions for Europe’s marathon team. Their pandemic-disrupted season lasted an incredible 383 days, but they will not be returning to Europe coming season after finishing seventh in the Premier League. After the missed penalty, the Spanish side took control of the games, which resulted in eventual ball possession of 73%, 5 shots on goal and 6 attempts on target. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men, hard-working as ever, managed just five attempts in total.
To make it even more painful for Wolves, the only and therefore deciding goal of the game fell just before the final whistle. Argentinian winger Lucas Ocampos headed his side to the semi-finals with his first Europa League goal of the season after a good centre by his compatriot Ever Banega. The corner that directly preceded his centre was actually Sevilla’s thirteenth corner of the game, compared to no corners for Wolves. It will now be up to Manchester United to defend the English honour in the Europa League when they face Sevilla in the semi-finals, while the Spaniards will be eyeing their fourth final in the competition in the last seven years.