2016/17 Europa League

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Europa League preview: Man United, Ajax nearing clash in final

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At Thursday’s end, two teams will be en route to Sweden… the question is, who?

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Ajax and Manchester United currently lead in their respective ties after solid opening leg performances, but the Dutch and English sides will have to replicate their efforts if they are to meet up in two weeks’ time at Friends Arena.

Manchester United vs. Celta Vigo — Thursday, 3:05 p.m. ET

The Red Devils will head home to Old Trafford to take on Celta Vigo after picking up a crucial away goal in Spain last Thursday in their 1-0 win at the Balaídos.

Marcus Rashford‘s second half free kick proved to be the difference for Jose Mourinho’s side, and the young attacker could play an important role for the Premier League club as they continue to battle the injury bug.

United will have one of its two top goalscorers in the competition though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and his five goals should provide stability in the attack along with Jesse Lingard.

Mourinho’s men are unbeaten in their last nine UEL matches, winning seven and picking up draws in their other two fixtures. Either result will do for United on Thursday.

Lyon vs. Ajax — Thursday, 3:05 p.m. ET

The Parc Olympique Lyonnais will play host to the two clubs in this semifinal second leg, but the French hosts will have their work cut out against Ajax after a 4-1 defeat six days ago.

Bertrand Traore‘s brace helped push Ajax one step closer to a UEL final, while Kasper Dolberg and Amin Younes each booked their names onto the scoresheet.

Lyon’s lone saving grace from the opening leg came with a Mathieu Valbuena finish in the second half. However, his side would need a 3-0 victory at the very least to have an opportunity at completing the comeback.

Robbie Earle on Man United’s priorities for rest of this season

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Following Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Europa League, Robbie Earle spoke with ProSoccerTalk about United’s priorities for the remainder of the season and their upcoming match against Arsenal.

Q: Does Jose Mourinho go all-out for the Europa League now that Man United are that much closer to the final?

Robbie Earle: Yeah, everybody was looking at the lineups for the Europa League and which way Jose would go. I think having gotten to the semifinal and now being 1-0 up from the away leg, they are in poll position to finish the job off at Old Trafford next week and then look forward to the final. It’s possibly going to be against Ajax to give them a Champions League spot.

In many respects if you look at the gamble in terms of opponents still to play in the Premier League and the trickiness of that and then maybe two games max in the Europa League, you can understand why the gamble will probably be more skewed toward the Europa League.

Q: Is that the right move from Mourinho?

RE: Yeah, I think it’s a gamble, but a calculated one. Due to injuries and suspended players he hasn’t had available I think he was always looking to head that way. He’s a great one-off tactician manager. We’ve seen it in days like the Manchester derby, recently against Chelsea when he can plot his team to make sure they get a result. Cup football very much suits him and I just think he likes having his own destiny in his own hands, which he will feel more in the Europa League than he will in the Premier League.

That leads us into the weekend when they have a huge game against Arsenal and a manager Mourinho hasn’t particularly liked over the years so he isn’t going to want to make it easy for Arsenal and give them the points. I still think Manchester United will want to go win that game. They can put a little more pressure on Arsenal and pretty much end their top four hopes.

Q: Mourinho has said that he will rest players against Arsenal if he needs to. Do you think he will?

RE: I think it’s a little much to say rest, he may rotate. I think we have to be careful with Manchester United. We’re not talking about Bournemouth or Southampton or Burnley, you know teams that might struggle for depth. I mean we’re still talking about Manchester United and I know they have injuries but they spent 200-odd million dollars at the start of the season on players. So yes, you have your injuries and suspensions and things, but I don’t feel we should be going down the road too much of poor old Manchester United because Manchester United in the past have been successful winning the treble at one time when you’ve got to play cup finals, league games, European games and that’s what successful teams do. They keep on grinding out results and getting results to get to finals.

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I think we will see some rotations of players, but this is Manchester United. [Paul] Pogba was good today. [Marouane] Fellaini can’t play in the Premier League, but can play in Europa which is a bonus so some things will take care of themselves. [Anthony] Martial could come back in. Obviously [Marcus] Rashford scoring today, he’s 19-years-old, he’d play every day if he could. You’ve got [Juan] Mata coming back and Michael Carrick may have a role to play so there’s still plenty enough there for United to get a result at Arsenal and then turn their attention to next Thursday.

Q: Is it an admission of failure from Man United this season that Mourinho has openly said they are prioritizing the Europa League and thus putting the Premier League on the back-burner?

RE: If we look back to the start of the season Mourinho talked about, we’re Manchester United, we have to go for titles, so that was the initial aim. I think during the course of the season, despite them being on this unbeaten run in the Premier League, there have been too many draws, 14, many of those at home. It’s very unlike Manchester United, where they generally put teams to the sword and get their result.

So I think it’s almost been a sort of realism of the season that’s gone on. That this team, this squad is not yet good enough to challenge for the top spot. It’s all out to make the top four and obviously the Europa League has been the best opportunity as we come toward the end of the season. Mourinho’s very smart. He’s won the League Cup, if he wins the Europa League or grabs a top four spot then that would go down as a successful team, although not maybe the success United have had in the past.

The Europa League is everything because of the Champions League spot now. In fairness to him, he’s taken the competition pretty seriously from day one. Whereas some teams I always think work hard to get into Europe and then work just as hard to get out of it. I don’t think Mourinho is that guy. I think he likes to win silverware regardless. I think he recognizes the value of the Champions League spot and he probably deep down recognized after a certain point this season this team may not be good enough to be top four so he gave himself and the club a chance, and you have to say that’s good management.

Q: What is the result of the Arsenal v. Man United match?

RE: That’s a good one. It’s so difficult to call because Arsenal are in this position where they have this whole sort of negativity around the football club, that’s part what’s happening on the pitch, part what’s happening with the manager.

Manchester United are in a reasonably relaxed frame of mind. There is certainly less pressure on them and Mourinho’s already almost got his excuse if they lose, that you know they are focusing on Thursday and that’s the big thing.

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I think because of the circumstances, the pressure of losing the North London derby last week, which means Spurs are going to finish above an Arsene Wenger team for the first time, because it’s so important to try and grab that top four spot, if I have to go one way I’m going to slightly tip it Arsenal’s way. Their need is greater and Manchester United have a ready-made excuse. I don’t feel Arsenal are necessarily in great form, but because of their need to get the points and because of United’s situation I tip them the slight favorites.

Besiktas fans set off fireworks outside Lyon team hotel

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Lyon’s crazy week continues.

Last Thursday, the first leg of their Europa League matchup with Besiktas was delayed significantly after Besiktas fans rained pyrotechnics down on Lyon fans from an upper deck, forcing the home supporters onto the pitch. Then over the weekend, their Ligue 1 mach against SC Bastia was abandoned at halftime after multiple incidents of fans entering the field and engaging players.

Now, the Turkish fans are at it again.

According to reports, Beskitas fans took to boats to set off fireworks outside the Lyon team hotel, which was situated on the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. The Coast Guard was called, and the situation was dissipated, but not after fans at least attempted to wake Lyon players in the wee hours of the night.

Lyon holds a 2-1 aggregate advantage heading into the second leg, after scoring in the 83rd and 84th minutes back in the home leg. The French club is seeking a return to the semifinals of either European competitions since 2009/10 when they reached the Champions League semis before being eliminated by Bayern Munich. Beskitas has never made the semifinals of a European competition.

Europa League preview: Man United looks for a way through

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Like the Champions League today, the Europa League will be left with just four teams when the quarterfinals conclude tomorrow with the second leg.

Manchester United is looking for Champions League qualification via the Premier League top four and still have a solid shot at doing so, but they can also lock that up by winning the Europa League. The Red Devils take a 1-1 aggregate back home against Belgian side Anderlecht, and you can bet Jose Mourinho will give this match everything he’s got.

Defensively.

Mourinho, known already as a defend and counter proponent, will likely lean heavily on his defense as they look to advance to the semifinals. He shut down likely Premier League champions Chelsea last time out, doing so by controversially selecting to leave star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the bench along with Henrkih Mkhitaryan. The gamble worked out, and with Marcus Rashford up front, the Red Devils scored a 2-0 win with a different style going forward than they had previously shown with Ibra.

Will Mourinho revert to their previous tactics with Zlatan up front, or will he ride the hot hand against a Belgian side that has already seen off Zenit St. Petersburg and APOEL in these Europa League knockout stages?

Elsewhere, Lyon travels to Turkey to take on Besiktas in a tightly contested match. The French side took the opening leg 2-1 in stunning fashion, coming back from a 1-0 deficit with goals in the 83rd and 84th minute. Still, the match is up for grabs thanks to the away goal by Besiktas, and Lyon will do well to keep in a mentally stable state after the week they had. The French club saw their supporters forced out onto the field in the first leg against Besiktas after Turkish fans rained pyrotechnics down on them from the tier above, and then had their league match against Bastia over the weekend abandoned after players were attacked by opposing fans on the pitch. Now with an away trip to rowdy Turkey, it will be tough to keep in the right frame of mind.

Dutch giants Ajax have a visit to Schalke holding a 2-0 lead after keeping a clean sheet at home and watching Davy Klassen score twice. Schalke has been all over the map this season, so it’s a bit tough to predict who we’ll seen from them at home on Thursday. Their last two Bundesliga matches alone have seen Schalke win 4-1 over Wolfsburg followed by a 2-1 defeat to last-placed Darmstadt. Which Schalke side will show up with the odds stacked against them?

Finally, pesky Celta Vigo hits the road to visit Belgian club KAA Genk after a wild 3-2 first leg in Spain. Celta Vigo has been sparkling to watch at times this year, but their defensive abilities have let them down on more than one occasion (they’ve conceded 51 La Liga goals this season, more than all but five Spanish teams), and if that happens again here, Genk can nick a win as they hold those two away goals.

Lyon blames Turkish ‘hooligans’ for crowd disorder

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PARIS (AP) Facing possible sanctions from UEFA after the crowd disorder that delayed its Europa League quarterfinal against Besiktas, French club Lyon said Friday it was the “victim” of visiting hooligans.

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Incidents inside Lyon’s stadium – which will host the final next season – followed fighting among rival French and Turkish fans earlier in the city on Thursday. About 20 minutes before the scheduled 9:05 p.m. (1905 GMT) kickoff, Lyon fans spilled on to the field for their own safety as fireworks were set off and missiles thrown from an upper section of the stadium housing Besiktas supporters.

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The game did finally kick off 45 minutes late after police intervened in the stands.

Lyon’s deputy general counsel, Vincent Ponsot, admitted the French league club’s responsibility in the disorder but insisted Besiktas fans created the trouble.

“As organizers we bear a part of the responsibility, except that it is clear that we have been the victim of an aggression that did not come from supporters, but from Turkish hooligans,” Ponsot told a press conference, adding that UEFA had opened a disciplinary procedure.

Lyon’s director of security, Annie Saladin, said about 50 Turkish fans forced their way inside the stadium and were responsible for the trouble. She said they threw projectiles from the upper stands, forcing other supporters to find shelter on the pitch.

“Even with 700 police officers we did not manage to contain this group,” Saladin said. “They were determined and they got what they wanted.”

Saladin added that, once identified, the group of violent fans was evacuated from the stadium by police.

However, some Lyon fans also sought to confront their Turkish counterparts outside the stadium before the game – and then inside the stadium – with dozens clashing.

On the field, Lyon trailed until the 84th minute before scoring twice to seize a 2-1 victory. The return match is next Thursday in Istanbul, which has a reputation as among the most hostile cities in Europe for visiting fans.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said his club’s fans have already been banned from traveling to Turkey for the return leg, a decision he called “unfair” and “illogical.”

“I don’t know what should be done: to play behind closed doors or elsewhere (at a neutral venue),” Aulas asked. “It would be very dangerous to take on this team (in presence of) the same supporters as tonight. We don’t really feel reassured.”

Aulas urged UEFA “to take its responsibilities,” and asked “for heavy sanctions against those who have injured our supporters.”

UEFA had increased security measures at its Champions League and Europa League matches this week after Borussia Dortmund’s team bus was targeted by a bomb attack on Tuesday. Dortmund’s game against Monaco in the Champions League quarterfinals was postponed and played on Wednesday.

Prior to the Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain and Galatasaray at Parc des Princes in March 2001, fans fought running battles outside the stadium and then engaged in ferocious clashes inside the stadium, leaving dozens with minor injuries.

In April 2000, two English fans from Leeds were stabbed to death during clashes prior to a UEFA Cup semifinal against Galatasaray in Istanbul.

The ill-feeling between PSG and Galatasaray still lingers.

Before the match between Turkey and Croatia during last year’s European Championship in France – which was held at PSG’s stadium – some 100 PSG fans tried to attack hardcore supporters from Galatasaray as they left the metro station, but were pushed back by riot police.

AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.