European qualifiers preview: Netherlands, Spain, Germany in unusual positions (full schedule)

2 Comments

Four match days remain in the group stage of qualification for Euro 2016 in France.

That means several big name nations have to pick up big points beginning Thursday if they want to avoid the playoff stage, let alone miss the tournament completely.

[ DEADLINE DAY: All PL transfers from the summer window ]

To refresh: the top two teams in each group go directly to Euro 2016. The top-ranked third-place side will go through, while the other eight will pair off in a two-legged home-road tie to advance to France. Only the host nation has clinched a spot already.

Take Group A, where powerful Netherlands could be outside the playoff picture after this week. The Dutch have to host first-place Iceland on Thursday before a Sunday trip to No. 4 Turkey, the former opponent with a five-point lead on its hosts and the latter just two points behind Holland.

Group C finds Spain and Slovakia in the driver’s seat, but also en route to a head-on collision for first place. The Slovak side is guaranteed at least third place, but can take a 6-point advantage on second-place Spain with a road win on Saturday. Meanwhile, third-place Ukraine has a pair of relative minnows in Belarus and Macedonia, and will hope to make up its three points on Spain (which holds a five-goal advantage in differential and a 1-0 home win).

Group D has an open-door policy, as Germany has slipped up a bit. The World Cup champions are a point behind group-leading Poland, and host the leaders on Friday before another tough match-up with Scotland on Monday. If the White Eagles can get a point from Die Mannschaft, they’ll have a great chance to clinch a spot with minnows Gibraltar next.

[ FOLLOW: Latest transfer news ]

Sweden has a tough pair of Group G match-ups with leaders Austria and third-place Russia, but its Leonid Slutsky under pressure. The longtime CSKA Moscow coach is taking over for Fabio Capello, and has to make up four points on the No.2 Swedes, making a home win on Saturday all-but-necessary.

In groups H and I, Italy and Portugal have found tougher sledding than usual. The Italians should have themselves sorted by the end of the week, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s side has to avenge its home loss to Albania. The good news? Albania has to play two matches in this window, while Portugal can focus its energy on the Red and Blacks.

FULL WEEK’S SCHEDULE

Thursday, Sept. 3
Kazakhstan at Czech Republic
Latvia at Turkey
Iceland at Netherlands
Wales at Cyprus
Bosnia & Herzegovina at Belgium
Andorra at Israel
Croatia at Azerbaijan
Norway at Bulgaria
Malta at Italy

Friday, Sept. 4
Northern Ireland at Faroe Islands
Romania at Hungary
Finland at Greece
Albania at Denmark
Ireland at Gibraltar
Armenia at Serbia

Saturday, Sept. 5
Lithuania at Estonia
England at San Marino
Slovenia at Switzerland
Sweden at Russia
Moldova at Austria
Liechtenstein at Montenegro

Sunday, Sept. 6
Czech Republic at Latvia
Netherlands at Turkey
Kazakhstan at Iceland
Israel at Wales
Belgium at Cyprus
Andorra at Bosnia & Herzegovina
Croatia at Norway
Azerbaijan at Malta
Bulgaria at Italy

Monday, Sept. 7
Georgia at Ireland
Germany at Scotland
Hungary at Northern Ireland
Faroe Islands at Finland
Greece at Romania
Denmark at Armenia
Portugal at Albania

Tuesday, Sept. 8
Spain at Macedonia
Ukraine at Slovakia
Luxembourg at Belarus
San Marino at Lithuania
Switzerland at England
Estonia at Slovenia
Montenegro at Moldova
Russia at Liechtenstein
Austria at Sweden

Jota takes super sub to new level in Wolves win

Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sometimes the phrase “game changer” is used a bit too loosely, but there’s no debating Diogo Jota fit the bill to a ‘t’ on Thursday.

Wolves scored four times in 11 minutes, three coming courtesy Jota, as the Premier League side buried Besiktas 4-0 in Europa League play on Thursday.

Jota entered in the 56th minute, scored in the 57th, and completed his hat trick in the 68th.

[ MORE: Who can Wolves draw in UEL? ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men had already clinched a place in the knockout rounds before the match day, and finish one point below Braga in Group K.

Jota has five goals in five days after scoring twice against Brighton on Sunday. The 23-year-old had an up-and-down season to start but has been mostly good over the past half-dozen games.

He has 37 goals in 107 matches with Wolves, including nine in all competitions this season. He scored nine times last season after a 17-goal campaign in the Championship.

Leander Dendoncker had Wolves’ other goal, with the day’s assists going to Oskar Buur, Joao Moutinho, and Pedro Neto.

 

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Ajax
Arsenal
Basel
Benfica
Braga
Celtic
Espanyol
Gent
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
LASK
Malmo
Manchester United
Porto
Red Bull Salzburg
Sevilla

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
Copenhagen
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Olympiacos
Rangers
Roma
Wolfsburg
Wolves
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.