Britain Soccer Europa League

Swansea and Napoli show Europa League nights are about to get good

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For much of the year the Europa League is scoffed at.

The bigger teams wouldn’t be seen dead competing in it, the medium sized teams use it as a reserve league for their squad players and there are a few smaller clubs who take it seriously.

Let’s face it, the Europa League lives a tough life as the UEFA Champions League towers over it, as the competition generally gets a pretty bad rep as the smaller brother.

And in case you didn’t know, the eight teams who finish third in their respective groups during the Champions League group stage are bumped down to the Europa League for the Round of 32 action. That means Europe’s second-tier continental tournament suddenly becomes awash with talented teams that didn’t quite make the cut in the UCL.

(MORE: Europa League holds draw for knockout round and Round of 16)

Such teams this season include reigning Italian champions Juventus, Dutch powerhouse Ajax and the extremely unlucky Napoli who somehow failed to qualify for the UCL knockout rounds, after becoming the only team in history to gain 12 points and not make the next stage of Europe’s top club competition.

Instead Napoli had to settle for a spot in the Europa League, and they faced a fired-up Swansea team at the Liberty Stadium on Thursday in an entertaining 0-0 draw. Yes, there were no goals. But the tempo of the game was impressive as both teams went for broke in an enthralling game.

In the first half the home side came flying out of the traps, as Swansea’s Nathan Dyer curled an effort towards the top corner but was denied, Wilfried Bony smashed over and had a shot well saved by Napoli ‘keeper Rafael Cabral, while just before the break Ashely Williams had acres of space in the box but headed over at the back post. At the other end Marek Hamsik smashed in a shot that Michel Vorm saved superbly, as the end-to-end action continued for the entire opening half. After the break Swansea’s tide of chances continued as Williams had another effort at the back post and then Wayne Routledge saw his shot saved superbly by former Liverpool ‘keeper Pepe Reina, who came on at half time following an injury to Cabral. Swansea kept pushing, but the fact that this game ended scoreless was neither here nor there.

(MORE: Much-changed Tottenham fall to Dnipro, as squad players struggle)

The cut and thrust of knockout soccer on the European stage was exciting and as goals flew in across the rest of Europe, the Europa League came to life again. For most of the group stage games, empty stadiums saw placid games play out as many teams used this competition as an afterthought. But now that some of the biggest clubs in Europe find themselves ensconced in a second-tier tournament, they don’t want to be embarrassed by so-called smaller teams, and smaller teams want to embarrass them.

If this Swansea vs. Napoli tie is anything to go by, Thursday’s between now and May mean we are in for a real soccer treat.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.

Conte pleased with Hazard’s performance vs. Burnley

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s debut season at Chelsea couldn’t have started off brighter with three wins in as many matches, but Saturday’s victory against Burnley was certainly the most convincing yet.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves to 3-0 after convincing win vs. Burnley ]

The Premier League upstarts were never really a match for the Blues, but Conte’s group dominated from start to finish in their 3-0 win against the Clarets.

The Italian spoke about his pleasure with the team’s effort post-match while also praising Eden Hazard‘s work rate.

“I am pleased to see the team play well and create a lot of chances,” Conte said following the win. “After 13 games where we have conceded at home, we didn’t this time and that is very important. Now we must continue.

“I want Hazard to be decisive at the beginning and I am pleased because I saw this today. However we must continue with his work and the work of the whole team.

Hazard notched the game’s first goal after just nine minutes, but it was his organization and possession that helped pace the Blues throughout the entire contest.

Chelsea dominated the game’s share of the ball, particularly down the wings through Hazard and Willian, giving the home side a decisive advantage against their opponent.

While Conte has every right to be happy with the team’s progression through the opening month of the new season, the veteran manager stressed that the club continues to look to improve.

“I am pleased to work with these players but if we find a right solution, we want to improve this squad,” Conte said.

Petr Cech after Arsenal’s first win: “We want to win the title”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Petr Cech of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on March 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s goal for this season is clear: to win the Premier League title.

That’s according to goalkeeper Petr Cech following Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford on Saturday as the north London club aim to go one better than last season’s second place finish.

With manager Arsene Wenger entering the final year of his contract, the time is now got Arsenal.

Yes, Arsenal will have their work cut out with the two Manchester clubs strengthening massively this summer but on their day they can blow teams away.

Saturday was one of those days as the Gunners destroyed Watford in the first half, scoring there times through Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. It could’ve been more too.

Although Cech had to make two good saves in the second half and Roberto Pereyra pulled one back for Watford, the win was about as a routine as it comes in the PL.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Cech couldn’t help but mention Arsenal’s title aspirations when summing up the victory.

“The first half we did well, scored three goals and could have scored more. The second half they were 3-0 down and as a good Premier League side pushed for something and it was tougher,” Cech said. “Everybody has to do their bit to help the team get three points. I am not happy because we conceded but a win is a win. We needed to respond after the first two games and got the vital three points.

“There are 35 more games to play and we will fight to win every game and be in the mix in the last game. We want to win the title, there is no hiding in that and we will do our best.”

When Arsenal play like this they are unstoppable as Ozil and Sanchez ripped Watford apart with incisive runs, passing and clinical finishing.

There is a long way to go this season, as Cech acknowledged, but when everyone is back fit and new players arrive, Arsenal will be sniffing around the top four once again this season.

Whether or not they can do better than that remains to be seen but Cech seems confident and focused to deliver the elusive title Arsenal has been waiting 12 long years for.

One step at a time, Petr.

Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.