With only four teams left in the UEFA Europa League and the trophy just about in sight, things are about to heat up. Here’s a brief preview for you going into the first leg of the Europa League semi-finals.
Villarreal CF vs Arsenal
Despite winning two trophies with Mikel Arteta over the past year, Arsenal’s performances in the league have been remarkably subpar. Instead of pushing for Europe through the league – as was expected – Arsenal lie 10th in the table, vying for a top half finish instead.
Fortunately for them, their performances in the Europa League have been much better. On Friday, they’ll be needing to rely on one of those if they want to avoid missing out on playing in Europe for the first time in a quarter of a century. Injuries will be keeping out big names like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney, but Arteta will not shy away from relying on his youngsters to do the job for him, as they have on multiple occasions this season.
In their path stands the very person Arteta replaced at Arsenal; the one who was reduced to merely a source for jokes by the time he was fired.
Unai Emery’s Villarreal currently sit 7th in LaLiga Santander. While they’re mathematically in contention for qualifying for Europe via league, they’ll be looking to grab a Champions League spot instead with Mr. Europa League in their corner. Emery has won this competition three times with Sevilla in the past and even took Arsenal to the final two years ago where they were soundly beaten by Chelsea in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Yellow Submarines will look to slow the game down to take the sting out of Arsenal’s quick-passing movements and hope the in-form Gerard Moreno and Samuel Chukwueze manage to capitalise on the Gunners’ defensive frailties.
Also Read – THE CURIOUS CASE OF ARSENAL
Manchester United vs AS Roma
Manchester United are on their worst trophy drought in recent history. Their last title win was the Europa League itself which they lifted in 2017. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Red Devils have made gradual yet substantial progress, but the fans will be left with a bitter taste in their mouths if his tenure does not produce a trophy.
This is United’s fifth semi-final under Solskjær since the start of last season. As admirable as constantly making into the final four of any cup competition is, it also gets more worrying every time United bow out at this stage. They need to win this tie to not only keep their hopes for silverware alive for at least another week, but also to overcome a major mental block.
In their path are AS Roma, the last Italian team standing in a European competition. The Giallorossi are a distant 7th in Serie A, 11 points behind AC Milan in fifth. Winning the Europa League is seemingly their only option to ensure European football next season.
Roma’s recent form has not been very kind to them as they come into the first leg fresh from a defeat against relegation-threatened Cagliari. There has been little investment into the squad recently and they have also hard luck with injuries to key players. They have, however, shown perseverance in this competition so far. They beat Ajax in the last round, who would have been much tougher opponents for Man United. They have also beaten tournament darlings Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16. They have beaten seemingly better oppositions before and have nothing to lose with everything to gain. There’s no reason why they won’t fancy taking their chances against the Red Devils.
Also Read – THE GLAZERS AND MANCHESTER UNITED – AN OVERVIEW
United, on the other hand, have already beaten a direct competitor in AC Milan. On paper, they are favourites for the title, but they’ll know better than to underestimate Roma despite their shortcomings. United are, after all, in the Europa League because of their spectacular collapse in the Champions League group stage earlier in the season. Yet, as fate would have it, that collapse has eventuated into their strong yet only shot at a trophy this year, and as they’ve almost secured a top four finish in the Premier League, they’ll have the luxury of focusing solely on the Europa League matches going into May.
Roma are likely to have former United players Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan available for the first leg, with former rival Edin Džeko set to lead the attack.
The UEFA Europa League semi-finals kick off simultaneously on Friday 12.30AM IST.