Europa League preview
Even with the Champions League underway, we thought it was some time to appreciate some of the fixtures in this year’s Europa League. There are some quality clubs in this years competition as the likes of Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, and Arsenal are all competing this week. Even RB Leipzig, who were at a time second in the Bundesliga, are in action this week. Let’s take a look at the three most intriguing fixtures taking place in the UEL this week.
AC Milan vs. Arsenal
TV: Fox Sports 2
Where is the fixture: San Siro in Milan, Italy
This is a battle of two historic clubs who find themselves in another season of disappointing results. Both Arsenal and Milan are relatively low (by their standards) in their respective domestic league tables. Arsene Wenger’s club sits firmly 6th in the Premier League table but are coming into this match on a 4 game winning streak which included two 3-0 beatings by Manchester City and stunning losses to Brighton and Swedish club Ostersands in the second leg of their previous Europa League tie. The Gunners look completely broken and are playing like a team who is desperate for anything positive to happen. With the Gunners firmly positioned in the middle of the table with the madness of them crashing out of the FA and League Cup, this is their final go around to grab a trophy this year.
It’s been a troubling year for AC Milan as well. They are currently 7th in the Serie A table, tied on points with Sampdoria for 6th. With them being 7 points behind rivals Inter for 5th and 6 points ahead of Atalanta in 8th, Milan are stuck in the table and it’s likely to stay that way. However, it doesn’t mean they don’t any other trophies to play for. In their most recent fixture they advanced to the Coppa Italia final after beating Lazio 5-4 on penalties. With both legs being disappointing 0-0 draws, the only way to decide it was a penalty shootout. After Marchi missed a penalty with the score being 4-4, Alessio Romagnoli stepped up and fired a penalty past Strakosha to send Milan to the final against Juventus. But now they have a test at home against Arsenal.
With Pierre Emerick Aubamayeng cup tied, he will be unavailable in this match. This handicaps Arsenal even more and they will likely rely on Alexandre Lacazette to be their striker. The former Lyon danger man has been moved out to the wing with Auba coming in. Not only has he been playing out of position but he’s dealing with a severe lack of confidence in front of goal. Arsenal will need to serve him some A+ chances for him to put one into the net of AC Milan.
The pressure on Wenger mounts with each passing game. It’s been a disastorous season for the Gunners and it could get worse in Milan. As bad as Milan has been in Serie A, they should be favorites in this tie and it helps that the first leg is in the San Siro.
Prediction: 2-0 Milan
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
TV: Fox Sports Plus
Where: Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France
It’s been a turbulent season for Athletic Bilbao. They’ve lost some important players like Aymeric Laporte and it’s shown in their La Liga form. Right now Bilbao sit 14th, that’s right 14th, in Spain’s top division. In their last two La Liga games, Bilbao drew Valencia 1-1 and were beat 2-0 by Sevilla. They are now 13 points behind 5th place Sevilla so barring a near perfect final months of the season + some help on the side, winning the Europa League is the only way Athletic can get back into Europe next season.
It was a tricky situation in their Round of 32 tie against Spartak Moscow. Bilbao escaped with a 4-3 win on aggregate despite losing the second leg 2-1. They will have to be much better against a Marseille team which likes to get up and down the pitch in a hurry.
The French team, who are 3rd in Ligue 1 at the moment, are in desperate need of a good game. Marseille have gone 4 games without a win which has included two back to back 3-0 beatings by league leaders PSG. In their most recent Ligue 1 match, they drew Nantes 1-1 in a game where they had 22 shots but only 4 on target along with 80% possession. It was a match they should have won. Like Bilbao, they advanced in their Round of 32 tie despite losing the second leg. Thanks to a 3-0 first leg win against Braga, they were able to get away with a 1-0 loss in the second leg.
Both teams are coming in with struggles in their domestic leagues with Marseille’s being more recent. But this will be a fun game. Especially from the French team’s side. They have scored 57 goals in Ligue 1, which is more than double of Bilbao’s total in La Liga. Look for Athletic to try and absorb the pressure while trying to strike on the counter.
Prediction: 2-1 Marseille
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
Where: Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain
This matchup features the favorites of the favorites to win the Europa League against the leaders in the Russian Premier League.
Atletico Madrid are no doubt the best team in the Europa League and after crashing out in the Champions League group stage, they are ready to put the embarrassment behind them. Diego Simeone’s team will be revved to go tomorrow and will be looking to suffocate the game from the get-go. They are currently second in La Liga but saw their six game winning streak snapped against league leaders Barcelona in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss. Had they gotten the three points, Atletico Madrid could have putten some real pressure on the Blaugranes but thanks to a Leo Messi free kick, which he put into the top right corner, Barcelona are up 8 points on Atletico. They have to be able to put the loss behind them as they keep striving towards a Europa League title.
Meanwhile, Lokomotiv Moscow have built themselves a comfortable lead at the top of the Russian Premier League. They are seven points ahead of second place FC Krasnador. They had their four game domestic winning streak snapped with a 0-0 draw against Spartak on Sunday. But they are cruising in the league right now. Meanwhile, their Round of 32 tie against OG Nice was interesting. They were down 2-1 in the first leg when a red card sent their French opponents to 10 men. After that Lokomotiv scored 2 goals in the final 21 minutes to nab a crucial 1st leg win with the added bonus of away goals. They sealed off the tie in the second leg when Ignor Denisov scored in the 30th minute to make it 4-2 on aggregate. The 1-0 saw them to the Round of 16 but they will be facing a very tough squad.
The Russian league leaders played well in their last away leg but this isn’t Nice. They will be going up against one of the toughest teams in Europe and it’s going to take a massive performance from the away side to make this a competitive tie.
Prediction: 3-0 Atletico Madrid