Manchester United won 5-0 at LASK Linz behind closed doors in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie, in a competition thrown into chaos as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Odion Ighalo slammed home the opener via the underside of the bar from 20 yards just before the half-hour, and Daniel James added a second with a sharp run and finish just before the hour mark.
Juan Mata bagged a third eight minutes from the end and Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira struck in injury time, as United extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches, with nine clean sheets in that time.
The game was played without fans in line with the guidance of the Austrian government — one of four matches to be held behind closed doors on Thursday.
UEFA on Wednesday confirmed that the first legs between Inter Milan and Getafe in Italy, and between Sevilla and Roma in Spain, would not go ahead as planned.
The announcement came after Spanish authorities suspended flights until March 25 to the country from Italy, which has been the worst hit European nation by the spread of the virus.
With the second legs due to be played next week, it is unclear how the ties will be resolved.
Istanbul Basaksehir won 1-0 at home to FC Copenhagen in Turkey courtesy of a late Edin Visca penalty, in one of just two first-leg matches allowed to take place before a crowd. Rangers against Bayer Leverkusen at Ibrox will also be open to fans.
Basel secured a surprise 3-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt with Samuele Campo, Kevin Bua and Fabian Frei all on target for the visitors. Germany’s financial capital will also host next week’s return leg, due to coronavirus-related restrictions imposed by Swiss authorities.
Wolfsburg’s game against Shakhtar Donetsk will be played behind closed doors, as will the match between Olympiakos and Wolverhampton Wanderers in Greece.
On Tuesday it was announced that Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis — also the owner of English club Nottingham Forest — had tested positive for coronavirus. He said he was taking “all necessary measures” and “feeling well”.
Wolves asked that the match be postponed, but said that UEFA had rejected that request.
Harry Maguire believes Manchester United are lucky to have “special talent” Mason Greenwood after the teenager scored his seventh goal of the season to rescue a point against Everton.
With the club celebrating reaching 4,000 consecutive matches featuring a youth product in their squad, the exciting 18-year-old came off the bench to seal a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
Greenwood has long been touted as a future United star and underlined his potential with a fine finish, fresh from hitting two goals in a man of-the-match display against AZ Alkmaar in Thursday’s Europa League encounter.
“It’s a great finish again,” said Maguire. “I think it’s pretty similar to his goal in midweek, to be honest. He’s a special talent, he’s a young boy, he’s working hard in training.
“He needs to keep his head down, not get carried away and I’m sure he’s going to have a big future for this club and we’re lucky to have him.”
Greenwood’s performance off the bench against Everton was one of few positives on a frustrating afternoon, with United failing to build on impressive Premier League wins against Tottenham and Manchester City.
Victor Lindelof’s own goal gave Duncan Ferguson’s side the lead and infuriated Maguire, who could not understand why VAR gave the opener the green light after Dominic Calvert-Lewin caught David de Gea as the corner came in.
Pushed on Everton’s goal, Maguire told MUTV: “Quite simply, I’ve watched it back, it’s a foul. It is frustrating.
“Nowadays, you can’t impede the goalkeepers. When I am going up for a corner, I know I can’t jump above the goalkeeper and make contact with him unless I’m making contact with the ball at the same time.”
“Then you see their player has charged in, he’s made contact with David, he hasn’t made contact with the ball. It should be a foul.”
The draw leaves United in sixth place in the Premier League table, four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Manchester United will face Belgian side Club Brugge in the last 32 of the Europa League, while struggling Arsenal were drawn against Olympiakos on Monday.
United, who won the competition under Jose Mourinho in 2017, travel to Bruges for the first leg on February 20 before returning to Old Trafford a week later.
Arsenal, who finished top of their group in Europe but are languishing ninth in the Premier League after sacking coach Unai Emery, are also away in the first leg.
Ajax were drawn with Spanish outfit Getafe following their surprise exit from the group stage of the Champions League, while Serie A leaders Inter Milan travel to Ludogorets.
Antonio Conte’s side will be among the favourites for the competition alongside last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax after failing to get past Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund in Europe’s top competition.
Sevilla travel to Romanian side Cluj with the five-time winners riding high in La Liga, while fellow Spaniards Espanyol travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are enjoying their first European campaign in nearly four decades.
Arsenal came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Standard Liege and make sure of a place in the Europa League last 32 as Group F winners on Thursday.
Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka were on target in the space of three second-half minutes.
The Gunners, runners-up to Chelsea last season, finished the group stage with 11 points and a relatively easier draw in the knockout rounds.
They lived on their nerves as Eintracht Frankfurt were poised to knock them off top spot when the Germans led Guimaraes 2-1.
However, the Portuguese side, already eliminated, scored twice in the last five minutes to claim a 3-2 win.
Arsenal had beaten Liege 4-0 in the first meeting between the two sides and with a place in the knockout round already virtually certain, caretaker coach Freddie Ljungberg made nine changes to his starting line-up in Belgium.
The home side took the lead just after half-time when a speculative Samuel Bastien shot took a huge deflection which left Gunners goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez wrong-footed.
The goal meant Arsenal had failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 13 matches in all competitions, equalling their worst ever run under Arsene Wenger in 2004.
It got worse after 69 minutes when Selim Amallah made it 2-0 off another deflection as Liege looked for the unlikely scoreline of 5-0 which would put them through and Arsenal out.
However, Lacazette calmed Arsenal nerves after 78 minutes when he headed in a cross from Saka.
Three minutes later, the impressive Saka levelled the scores with a fine finish from the edge of the box.
Frankfurt had beaten Arsenal in London last time out with a win which hastened the departure of Gunners coach Unai Emery.
They were on course to finish top of the group after Danny Da Costa and Daichi Kamada gave them a 2-1 lead over Guimaraes.
However, Libyan midfielder Ali Al Musrati and English winger Marcus Edwards scored in the 85th and 87th minutes to leave Frankfurt in the runners-up spot.
Elsewhere, Celtic, fresh from winning the Scottish League Cup last weekend and already assured of making the last 32, lost 2-0 at Cluj who went through as Group E runners-up behind the Scots.
Italian giants Lazio, third in Serie A, were knocked out after a 2-0 loss at Rennes in the same group.
Later Thursday, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made nine changes to the side that beat Manchester City at the Etihad last Saturday for the home tie with Alkmaar.
Both United and their Dutch visitors were already assured of making the last 32 although with just a point between them, top spot was at stake in Group L.
Twice former European champions Porto, Roma and Bundesliga leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach were also later bidding to nail down a qualifying spot.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Wednesday that he wants Manchester United to learn how to be consistent as his in-form team prepare for their Europa League clash with AZ Alkmaar.
Group L leaders United have already qualified for the knockout stages of the competition going into Thursday’s match at Old Trafford, and they are up to fifth place in the Premier League after a run of five matches without defeat that included successive wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
“Consistency is vital in football. If we want to win trophies this young team needs to learn how to put performances in when they don’t feel great,” said Solskjaer. “It doesn’t happen that you feel great every time you walk onto the pitch.
“We have had some games this year where we have not been able to perform as well as we would like but that is a learning curve.
“The young boys will improve that as well in the next few years and hopefully the rest of the year. We are looking brighter now.”
Solskjaer’s side are one point ahead of surprise Dutch outfit Alkmaar and need a draw from their final group match to ensure top spot.
“Results are the proof in the end. Inside we have always believed in what we are doing,” the Norwegian added.
“I see these boys in training every single day. I see their skills and attitude so I’m not worried.”
Solskjaer also condemned the alleged racist abuse aimed at United midfielders Fred and Jesse Lingard in their 2-1 derby win over City on Saturday, with the former also being hit by missiles as he went to take a second-half corner.
A 41-year-old man was arrested on Sunday in connection with the allegations, before being bailed pending further investigation.
“This isn’t how it should be in football but what we can do is go out onto the pitch next time and prove we are all equal,” said Solskjaer. “It has been a tough couple of days for Jesse and Fred.”
Manchester United made an emotional return to Belgrade on Thursday and, after a ceremony to remember the ‘Busby Babes’, eked out a first away win since March, 1-0, over Partizan.
Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the Europa League Group L game with a penalty kick after 43 minutes, but the hosts had eight strikes on target to just three by United.
The game marked the return to the ground where Matt Busby’s famous team of talented youngsters played their last game, a European Cup quarter-final against Red Star in February 1958.
The plane crashed in Munich on the way home and seven United players were among the 23 who died.
United had only played in Belgrade once since then, when they lost a European Cup semi-final to Partizan in 1966.
On Thursday afternoon, United held a commemoration ceremony where former players Bryan Robson and Mickey Thomas laid a wreath on the centre circle at the Partizan Stadium and vice-chairman Ed Woodward gave a speech.
“As soon as the draw happened, our attention turned to wanting to remember those who lost their lives in 1958,” he said.
“This was the last place, on this very ground, against Red Star Belgrade, when they played as a team together.”
“So for us as a club, there is a game tonight but for us the trip is also important for remembering those who lost their lives.”
For the match, United made eight changes from the team that drew at home with Liverpool on Sunday. Teenagers Brandon Williams and James Garner came into the team.
Williams, playing wing back, made a decisive contribution in the 43rd minute when he burst into the Partizan box and drew wild tackles from two home defenders. Martial rolled the penalty into the corner of the goal.
United spent much of the match defending.
Partizan’s Nigerian centre forward Umar Sadiq was dangerous throughout, hitting the post just before Martial’s goal and fizzing another shot just wide. Guinean Seydoubah Soumah and Japanese Takumah Asano both forced tricky saves from Sergio Romero.
“We expected a hostile environment but we got the win,” said United defender Phil Jones. “I thought Garner and Williams were outstanding.”
United can ensure a spot in the knockout rounds if the beat Partizan at Old Trafford on matchday four.
‘Our aim is to enjoy’
In a game in Bratislava, played in an unusual atmosphere after Slovan side-stepped a stadium ban for racism by giving 21,000 tickets to children, Wolves fought back from a goal down to win 2-1.
Andraz Sporar gave the home team an 11th minute lead in the Group K tie.
Romain Saiss levelled in the 58th minute with a low, long-range shot that bobbled through goalie Dominik Greif’s legs
Six minutes later, Vernon DeMarco gave Raul Jimenez a shove in front of goal and the Wolves striker scored the winner from the resulting penalty.
Diogo Jota collected one yellow card after 86 minutes and another one minute later, but Wolves held on to win away for the fifth time in Europe this season.
“We managed to take what we wanted from the game,” Nuno Espirito Santo, the Wolves manager, told BT, the British broadcaster. “Our aim is to enjoy this competition.”
A penalty also proved pivotal in a Group J game in Rome.
Nicolo Zaniolo gave Roma the lead over Borussia Moenchengladbach but Chris Smalling conceded a penalty in the fifth minute of added time and Lars Strindl, a second-half substitute, calmly converted.
Roma stayed top of the group while ‘Gladbach are last.
Porto were held 1-1 at home by Steven Gerrard’s Rangers after both teams scored with a long-range blast. Luis Diez gave Porto the lead after 36 minutes. Alfredo Morelos replied eight minutes later.
The two teams have four points, two behind group leaders Young Boys who won 2-0 at home to Feyenoord.
Manchester United and last year’s finalists Arsenal headline an English trio that also features Europa League newcomers Wolves while record five-time champions Sevilla figure to be among the primary contenders as the group stage begins Thursday.
Scottish rivals Celtic and Rangers face testing paths to the knockout rounds as bitter foes Roma and Lazio bid to end Italy’s two-decade wait for the title.
Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord are the other former European Cup winners in a competition that will welcome the eight third-place finishers from the Champions League groups for the knockout phase.
United, Europa League winners in 2017, will host Astana in Group L as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face opponents from Kazakhstan for the first time in club history.
They will expected to progress with relative ease from a group that also includes Partizan Belgrade and former finalists AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands.
Unai Emery’s Arsenal return to the competition after last season’s 4-1 defeat by Chelsea in the final in Baku saw the Blues pip them to Champions League qualification.
The Gunners visit Eintracht Frankfurt to kick off their campaign, with 10-time Belgian champions Standard Liege and Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes also in Group F.
Wolves, in their first European campaign since 1980, will meet Portuguese club Braga in their opening game at Molineux.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team came through three ties just to reach the group stage. They beat Torino 5-3 on aggregate in the play-offs.
“I think any team in the Europa League are a good team who we will respect going up against them. We will give everything, try to play and try to beat any team,” said Wolves winger Adama Traore.
“Any player wants to play in Europe, but the Europa League is exciting, it is a new thing for us and it’s a good thing.”
Scottish champions Celtic travel to French Cup holders Rennes in Group E, with Italian Cup holders Lazio and CFR Cluj, the Romanian side to whom they lost in Champions League qualifying, completing a tricky section.
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers are at home to Jaap Stam’s Feyenoord on Thursday and will do well to navigate a group with Porto and Swiss champions Young Boys.
Roma will take on Istanbul Basaksehir in their first game while Moenchengladbach host Austria’s Wolfsberg — not to be confused with German outfit Wolfsburg.
Austria boast two representatives with LASK Linz among the six debutants — alongside Espanyol, Wolves, Wolfsberg, Olexandriya and Ferencvaros — in the tournament.
UEFA will distribute 560 million euros to clubs competing in this season’s Europa League, just over a quarter of the 1.95 billion euros allocated to those participating in the Champions League.
Each of the 48 clubs in the group stage will receive a base of 2.92 million euros, with lifting the trophy worth just under 18 million euros in basic prize money.
Teams will net 570,000 euros per win and 190,000 for a draw with additional revenue coming through television markets and money depending on each team’s UEFA ranking.
By comparison, the Champions League winners stand to take home around 75 million euros before considerable sums are tacked based on the market pool and coefficient ranking.
The final will be held in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 27, 2020.
Last season’s runners-up Arsenal were placed in the same section as Eintracht Frankfurt in the draw for the Europa League group stage in Monaco on Friday, while Manchester United face a long trip to Kazakhstan.
Unai Emery’s Arsenal side lost to Chelsea in the final in Baku after Eintracht had been eliminated by the same side on penalties in the last four.
Ten-time Belgian champions Standard Liege and Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes are also in Group F.
United, Europa League winners in 2017, will face Astana of Kazakhstan as well as Partizan Belgrade and former finalists AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands in Group L.
Wolverhampton Wanderers, the third English team in the draw, will take on Turkish side Besiktas in Group K.
In their first European campaign since 1980, Wolves have already come through three ties just to reach the group stage, including defeating Torino 5-3 on aggregate in the play-offs.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team will also take on Braga of Portugal and Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia.
While all three Premier League sides will be fancied to progress to the last 32, the draw was far less kind on the two Scottish representatives.
Scottish champions Celtic meet Italian Cup holders Lazio and French Cup holders Rennes in Group E as well as CFR Cluj, the Romanian side to whom they lost in Champions League qualifying.
Celtic were in the same group as Rennes in the 2011-12 Europa League and took four points against the French club.
Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers will take on former European Cup winners Porto and Feyenoord as well as Swiss champions Young Boys in Group G.
Rangers reached the group stage for the second season running after edging out Legia Warsaw in the play-off round.
The opening group games will be played on September 19. This season’s final will be held in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 27, 2020.
Wolves eased past Armenia’s Pyunik 4-0 and 8-0 on aggregate to reach the Europa League play-offs on Thursday where they will face Torino of Italy.
Diogo Jota, on as a substitute, scored a spectacular late volley with debutant Pedro Neto, Morgan Gibbs-White and Ruben Vinagre also on the scoresheet as Nuno Espirito Santo’s Premier League side cruised through at Molineux.
Wolves, playing in Europe for the first time since 1980, face a Torino side who drew 1-1 at Belarusian side Shakhtyor 1-1 to make it past the third qualifying round 6-1 on aggregate.
Nikolai Yanush salvaged some pride for the hosts levelling on the night from the spot in stoppage time after Simone Zaza had given the Italians the lead 10 minutes from time, but Torino were already well out of sight.
Torino, who finished seventh in Serie A last season, are only in the competition after AC Milan accepted in June a voluntary ban from European football for the coming season over breaches of financial fair play rules.
Feyenoord, former European champions and two-time winners of the Europa League’s predecessor UEFA Cup, also had easy passage to the playoffs after a 1-1 draw with Dinamo Tbilisi that saw them through 5-1 on aggregate.
Rangers saw off FC Midtjylland 3-1 at Ibrox for a 7-3 aggregate with Alfredo Morelos scoring twice either side of a Sheyi Ojo strike.
Fellow Scots Aberdeen, however, lost 2-0 to Rijeka of Croatia and went out 4-0 on aggregate.
Chelsea face Arsenal in the Europa League final in the unfamiliar setting of Azerbaijan on Wednesday in what is likely to be Chelsea star Eden Hazard’s last match for the club before a rumoured move to Real Madrid.
The buildup to the all-English clash has been marred by the controversy surrounding UEFA’s choice of venue, with a London derby exported almost 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometres) to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, by the Caspian Sea.
The match is the first course in a banquet of European finals dominated by England, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur contesting the Champions League showpiece in Madrid on Saturday.
However, there will not be much of an English atmosphere at the Baku Olympic Stadium when the match kicks off at 11:00pm (1900 GMT), with reportedly only around 6,000 tickets sold by the clubs for a ground which holds almost 70,000.
The distances and costs involved and the difficulty in getting to Baku have prevented more fans from travelling.
On the field, Arsenal are handicapped by the absence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He decided not to travel because of fears over his safety due to an ongoing political dispute between Azerbaijan and his home country, Armenia.
“It is not in my hands. They have their reason to play here and I must respect this decision,” Arsenal coach Unai Emery said on Tuesday.
“Yes, I prefer to play with our supporters here. I’d prefer it if a lot of supporters from us and from Chelsea could come here from London, but it’s difficult.”
Chelsea’s preparations have been fraught, with rumours swirling that not only is Hazard leaving for Madrid but that coach Maurizio Sarri could go to coach-less Juventus.
The tension bubbled to the surface in a training session open to the media on Tuesday when Sarri stormed off the pitch at the Olympic Stadium with TV cameras capturing the moment when the Italian angrily tossed away his baseball cap as he headed for the tunnel shortly after David Luiz and Gonzalo Higuain had clashed.
Sarri had earlier refused the Juventus vacancy, saying: “I have a contract with Chelsea for two years.
“So, first of all I will speak with Chelsea but this is not the moment.”
He said winning the final would turn a “very good season” into a “wonderful” one. Some critics would argue however that a third-place Premier League finish 26 points adrift of champions Manchester City and a chance of winning Europe’s second-tier trophy is unsatisfactory for a club with Russian-backed Chelsea’s budget.
Emery has seemed far more serene although the stakes are certainly high for the Gunners. After finishing fifth in the Premier League, two points behind Chelsea in third and one point behind Tottenham, Arsenal have to win to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“For a club like Arsenal we have to be in the Champions League. It’s an amazing and important game because we want to give us, the fans and the club the Champions League back,” said Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal have not been in a European final since 2006 and have not won a continental trophy since lifting the Cup Winners’ Cup 25 years ago.
In Emery, though, they have a coach who won this competition three years running with Sevilla.
“All teams’ first objective is to play to win a title — I think that is the first objective, and then there is also the fact that it helps you to achieve the Champions League,” said Emery, the former PSG coach.
– Night of farewells? – Emery is still to win a major trophy, but he has already steered the Blues to a return to the Champions League and also took them to the League Cup final, where they lost on penalties to Manchester City.
Whatever happens to Hazard, it will definitely be the last game for Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, who will retire afterwards at the age of 37. A Chelsea great who crossed London in 2015, Cech has been tipped for a return to Stamford Bridge in some capacity.
“I can speak about Petr Cech a lot, but above all he’s a great man, a great professional,” Emery said. “I want to do something important, with him playing or not playing.”
Bernd Leno is the other option in goal, while Chelsea are sweating on the fitness of key midfielder N’Golo Kante.
“Kante has a very little problem with his knee. The problem is the timing, but we are trying,” said Sarri.
Arsenal took a huge step towards the Europa League final as a double from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late strike earned a 3-1 semi-final, first leg win over Valencia on Thursday.
The Spanish side’s bright start was rewarded with Mouctar Diakhaby’s away goal, but Lacazette quickly turned the game around with two goals in eight minutes before Aubameyang’s late intervention gave the Gunners a two-goal advantage to defend at the Mestalla on May 9.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery is a Europa League specialist having won the competition three times when in charge at Sevilla.
And the Spaniard’s decision to start Lacazette and Aubameyang together against his former side was richly rewarded despite a terrible start from the hosts.
Arsenal are desperate not just for silverware in Emery’s first season but the guarantee of Champions League qualification for next season that winning the Europa League would bring.
A run of three straight Premier League defeats has left Emery’s men needing more favours from Chelsea or Tottenham to stand any chance of a top-four Premier League finish.
The Gunners had conceded three times in all three of those defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester and the same defensive deficiencies cost them again early on.
Valencia had already missed a glorious chance to take the lead when Ezequiel Garay somehow turned Rodrigo’s driven cross over the bar from point-blank range.
However, the hosts did not learn their lesson and from another set-piece, Valencia took the lead when Diakhaby got the final touch at the back post to force home Rodrigo’s header across goal.
Emery has been reticent to start Lacazette and Aubameyang together up front, but the game turned on one moment of magic from Arsenal’s two prolific strikers.
Lacazette played in Aubameyang and the Gabon international left his marker and Valencia goalkeeper Neto on the ground before squaring for his strike partner to roll into an empty net.
Seven minutes later, Arsenal led as terrible defending allowed Lacazette a free header from Granit Xhaka’s cross and a weak hand from Neto could not prevent the ball crossing the line.
The chances continued to come for Arsenal’s front two as Aubameyang volleyed into the ground and over just before the break.
Lacazette then had two glorious opportunities to complete his hat-trick as he firstly failed to connect with an inch-perfect Aubameyang cross before Neto made a brilliant save at his near post to keep the Spanish side in the tie.
At the other end Petr Cech also had to make a smart stop as he raced from his goal to deny substitute Kevin Gameiro.
The veteran stopper has announced he will retire at the end of the season.
And Cech’s final game could well be against his former club Chelsea in next month’s final as the Blues secured a 1-1 draw away at Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of the other semi-final.
Arsenal still have work to do with their terrible away record this season likely to give Valencia plenty of encouragement.
However, they moved much closer to booking their place in Baku when Aubameyang turned home at the back post in the final minute.