Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund will headline the Europa League quarterfinal draw on Friday after coming through their Round of 16 ties against Man Utd and Spurs with ease.
There was a time when Liverpool v Man United would have been billed as one of the great rivalries in world football.
How things have changed.
When the draw for the Europa League Round of 16 pitted the two North West rivals together for the first European tie in their history appetites where whet. Unfortunately, fans were left famished. There wasn’t a dessert, and the main meal was scabby.
The game was all over after the first leg. Liverpool dominated the match in a 2-0 win. United’s lack of effort another big reason UEFA need to put this competition under the microscope. Nobody cares.
Overcoming a 2-0 deficit at home is not a rarity for United. They have done it four times before in European competition, most notably under the David Moyes reign when they beat Olympiakos 3-0 after losing the first leg 2-0. But this United side lack firepower.
They started well. Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial looked sharp up front. Even Mr Unpopular, Marouane Fellaini was moving forward at pace. They were rewarded for their early gusto when the very suspect Nathaniel Clyne upended Martial in the box in the 30th minute. The young Frenchman taking the kick himself and scoring with ease.
The crowd roared. United advanced. Louis Van Gaal wouldn’t have wanted the half time whistle. Then just as the half was about to wilt away a moment of magic by Philippe Coutinho won the tie for the team from Merseyside. The diminutive Brazilian ghosted past Guillermo Varela before calmly lifting the ball over the head of the seemingly unpassable David De Gea.
The strike not only sent Liverpool in at half time all square, but it also sucked the heat out of the cauldron. Subdued fans. Subdued players. They came out needing to score three goals, and their manager substituted both full backs and replaced Michael Carrick with Bastian Schweinsteiger. I think that sums up Louis Van Gaal’s impact at Man United.
Liverpool goes through to the quarterfinals after winning 3-1 on aggregate.
Borussia Dortmund Sweep Past Spurs
As good of a season, Mauricio Pochettino has had, I think he will be cursing his decision to play a weakened side in the first leg of this competition. I firmly believe Leicester will win the Premier League, and Spurs will have nothing but a Champions League spot to show for their early promise.
Spurs could have won this competition. Why didn’t they want to? His decision to play a weakened side baffles me, even more, when you consider the strength of the sides he has put out in this competition in the earlier rounds.
The second leg was a mere formality. Harry Kane once again started the match on the bench. Dortmund swept past them courtesy of a brace from one of the in-form strikers in the world. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring twice before Son Heung-min scored a late consolation goal. Spurs have now failed to navigate their way past this round for the third successive season. Dortmund should go on and win the trophy from here.
Dortmund winning 5-1 on aggregate.
Here are the rest of the nights results. The draw for the quarter-finals takes place on Friday.
Europa League Round of 16 Results
Lazio 0 v 3 Sparta Prague (1-4 agg)
Valencia 2 v 1 Athletic Bilbao (2-2 agg Bilbao win on away goals)
Bayer Leverkusen 0 v 0 Villareal (0-2 agg)
Braga 4 v 1 Fenerbahce (4-2 agg)
Anderlecht 0 v 1 Shakhtar Donetsk (1-4 agg)
Spurs 1 v 2 Dortmund (1-5 agg)
Man Utd 1 v 1 Liverpool (1-3 agg)
Sevilla 3 v 0 Basel (3-0 agg)
Athletico Bilbao – 10/1
Shakhtar Donetsk – 14/1
Braga – 16/1
Sparta Prague – 18/1