Manchester United and Arsenal will play at neutral venues in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first legs, as the UK mutation of coronavirus has led to extra travel restrictions.
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Manchester United’s trip to Spain to play Real Sociedad in the first leg on Feb. 18 will now be played at Juventus’ stadium in Turin, Italy.
As for Arsenal, their first leg trip to Benfica has been switched to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Feb. 18, as Portugal has been placed on a red list by the UK government. That means Arsenal will have to find a neutral venue to host their home game too.
Is there an advantage for Premier League clubs?
Aside from the Europa League, the three Premier League teams left in the UEFA Champions League will all now be playing at neutral venues instead of away from home and it is believed they will still get to play in their home stadium for the return leg.
That feels like a slight advantage, even though there are of course no fans present within stadiums due to the current level of COVID-19 cases remaining high across Europe.
With teams who face Premier League opponents forced to fly to different countries to play their ‘home’ games, they will see this as an inconvenience.
So far, the only two Premier League teams who will be travelling to play away in Europe at the actual home stadium of their opponents is Tottenham and Leicester City. The Foxes face Slavia Prague in the Europa League Round of 32 and the Czech Republic doesn’t have as severe restrictions on people arriving from the UK. Spurs travel to Austria to play Wolfsberg.
It does beg the question: with so many travel restrictions placed on some European countries from other European countries, could a mini-tournament be squeezed in later in the spring, in one host nation/city, to make things fairer?