Europa League 2019-20 – A brief preview of the quarter-finals

We started this mini-series about the knock-out stages of the ongoing Europa League and Champions League with a review of the EL quarter-finals. With the Champions League quarter-finals still in full swing, this second instalment is a quick preview of the upcoming semi-finals of the Europa League. The first tie is set for Sunday, August 16th, and the second game takes place a day after.

The upcoming Europa League semi-finals (European Times)


The first semi-final encounter of the 2019-20 Europa League campaign will be one between two teams who very much dominated their respective quarter-final ties. Sevilla were responsible for the elimination of Europe’s marathon team Wolverhampton Wanderers, courtesy of a very late Lucas Ocampos goal, while Manchester United helped Copenhagen goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson achieve a record 13 saves (in a single EL game since 2009) before a Bruno Fernandes penalty in extra time decided the game. It’s hard to pick a real and true favourite in this game, but despite United’s history and financial superiority, we’d say Sevilla have the edge. Whether or not you agree with us, if you’re intent on betting your money on one of these two sides then it’s important you get an edge as well, so look out for sign up offers to give you a boost.

If there is any team in Europa with the Europa League in its DNA, it’s the Andalusian side. Reaching the final this year would mean their fourth final in the last seven years and their sixth final in the last fifteen years. They won all of those finals. On top of that, it was Sevilla who knocked out the Red Devils out of the Champions League knock-out stage just two years ago. Of course, both clubs have undergone plenty of changes and transformations over the past years, but the Spaniards have once again formed a strong roster during transfer market magician Monchi’s second tenure at the club. With the likes of Argentinian internationals Ocampos and Banega, Spanish ex-Man City veteran Jesus Navas, and the talented Real Madrid loanee Sergio Reguilón among their ranks, there is plenty for United to worry about.

That doesn’t mean that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United have nothing to offer in this game, on the contrary. The only, and admittedly most important, thing they lacked a few days ago against Copenhagen was a finishing touch. And perhaps a bit of luck. United dominated the game and it was nothing short of a miracle that the scoreboard displayed 0-0 after 90 minutes. As we mentioned before, Copenhagen’s goalkeeper Johnsson played the game of his life and the VAR wasn’t on United’s side either, but United did create an impressive 26 attempts on goal overall, 14 of which were on target. In Sevilla they are facing a team in good form that has conceded just a single goal in the last eight games over all competitions and one that will definitely not allow for such an amount of conceded chances. With cannons like Rashford, Greenwoord, Fernandes and Martial up front though, on a good day, United can tear down any defence.

Prediction: Sevilla 1 – 0 Manchester United

Inter Milan – Shakhtar Donetsk

As we wrote in our Europa League quarter-final review, Shakhtar Donetsk were the only side to win their encounter with a difference of more than 1 goal. The Ukrainians made quick work of Swiss side FC Basel beating them 4-1, while their semi-final opponents Inter Milan managed to translate their dominance against Bayer Leverkusen into “just” a 2-1 victory. The Italians will be considered favourites for this one, though.

Since the return of football a good two months ago, Antonio Conte’s men have been in fine form. In 13 Serie A games, they lost just once and finished one point behind champions Juventus, while they beat both Getafe in the Europa League’s round of 16 (2-0) and then Leverkusen in the next round (2-1). In Romelu Lukaku, the Italian side bolsters one of the finest strikers in EL history, as well. With his goal against Leverkusen, he became the first player in the tournament’s history to score at least once in nine consecutive games. He’s on 31 goals in total overall this season and he’ll surely be hoping for a showdown against his former club Manchester United in the final. With the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Christian Eriksen and Alexis Sanchez in support of the powerful Belgian, combined with one of Europe’s most stable defences, Inter are the favourite for this one and for the final victory.

First though, they will need to get past a very experienced Shakhtar Donetsk side. In Junior Moraes, the Ukranians have their own Romelu Lukaku in the sense that the 33-year old Brazilian has been scoring goals for fun this season. After netting 26 times in all competitions last season, he sits on 25 goals already this season. He scored 8 of those goals in the Europa League this season, and 3 of those were scored in the round of 16 and quarter-finals. The service is provided by a pair of compatriots of his, the tricky Taison and Marlos. Supported by a well-organised midfield, the Brazilian trio caused all kinds of trouble against Basel in the quarter-finals, but we feel Inter will probably be a bridge too far for the Ukrainians.

Prediction: Inter Milan 3 – 0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Europa League 2019-20 – a brief review of the quarter-finals

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.

The Europa quarter-final results
The upcoming Europa League semi-finals (European times)

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.