Spurs Hit Man Utd For Six, Arsenal Edge Blades

 

Jose Mourinho humiliated his former club Manchester United as Tottenham swept to a stunning 6-1 win at Old Trafford, while Arsenal moved into the Premier League’s top four with a 2-1 victory against Sheffield United on Sunday.

Tottenham boss Mourinho was sacked by United in 2018 after a turbulent reign, but it was his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was left red-faced after a shambolic display from the hosts.

Despite taking the lead through Bruno Fernandes’ second-minute penalty, United collapsed as they conceded four goals in the first half of a league match for the first time since 1957.

Tanguy Ndombele equalised in the fourth minute after dismal defending from Harry Maguire and South Korea forward Son Heung-min made it two from Harry Kane’s seventh minute quick free-kick.

United were reduced to 10 men when Anthony Martial was harshly sent off in the 28th minute for his reaction to a push from Erik Lamela.

That opened the floodgates as United surrendered, with Kane grabbing Tottenham’s third in the 31st minute after stealing Eric Bailly’s weak pass.

READ ALSO: Tottenham Hit 10-Man Man Utd For Six On Mourinho’s Return

United were in disarray and Serge Aurier crossed for Son’s close-range finish in the 37th minute.

Aurier drilled home in the 51st minute and Kane made it six with a 79th-minute penalty.

It was just the third time United had conceded six goals in the Premier League era started in 1992.

Solskjaer’s team have lost their first two home games for the first time since 1986 and sit just two places above the relegation zone after their heaviest home defeat since Manchester City beat them 6-1 in 2011.

Tottenham are up to fifth place after their second league win this term, ending a run of four games in eight days that included knocking Chelsea, another of Mourinho’s old clubs, out of the League Cup on Tuesday.

– Saka shines –
Arsenal have taken nine points from their opening four games as they look to return to Champions League football for the first time in five years next season.

But the Gunners were fortunate to take all three points at the Emirates as they had an early escape when David Luiz escaped a red card for a pull on Oli Burke.

Mikel Arteta’s men got going after the break and a fine team move opened the scoring on the hour mark when Bukayo Saka headed home Hector Bellerin’s cross at the far post.

Bellerin was the provider again moments later as Nicolas Pepe drove forward to curl the ball in off the far post.

David McGoldrick halved the deficit seven minutes from time with the Blades first league goal of the season, but they remain without a point.

Leicester rocked

Leicester’s perfect start came to a shuddering halt with a 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham, just a week after the Foxes thrashed Manchester City 5-2.

Liverpool can now leapfrog Leicester to move joint top of the table alongside Merseyside rivals Everton if they win at Aston Villa later on Sunday.

West Ham manager David Moyes was again taking charge from home after testing positive for coronavirus.

But just as in a 4-0 win over Wolves last weekend, the Hammers did not miss his presence as goals from Michail Antonio, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen gave the visitors a full deserved three points.

At St Mary’s, Southampton won their second successive game by seeing off lowly West Brom 2-0.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side dominated throughout but had to wait until the 41st minute to open the scoring when Moussa Djenepo’s clever drag-back eluded Jake Livermore before the winger stroked his finish into the bottom corner.

Oriol Romeu met Stuart Armstrong’s cross with a brilliant volley from the edge of the area in the 69th minute.

Wolves beat Fulham 1-0 at Molineux as Pedro Neto’s 56th minute goal clinched their second league win of the season.

Lewandowski Named UEFA Men’s Player Of The Year

 

Robert Lewandowski was named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year on Thursday following a superb season in which he won the treble with Bayern Munich.

Lewandowski was at UEFA headquarters in Nyon in Switzerland to receive the award at the draw for the Champions League group stage, just weeks after Bayern won the 2019/20 edition of the competition.

The Poland striker scored 55 goals in 47 games as Bayern also won the Bundesliga and German Cup. He was the top scorer in the Champions League with 15 goals.

Bamford Strikes Late As Leeds Blunt Blades

 

Patrick Bamford scored a dramatic late winner as Premier League new boys Leeds snatched a 1-0 victory at Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United on Sunday.

Marcelo Bielsa’s promoted side earned their second successive league win thanks to Bamford’s header with just two minutes left.

Bamford’s third goal of the season settled a hard-fought clash that was dominated by superb displays from Leeds keeper Illan Meslier and Blades stopper Aaron Ramsdale.

Leeds look well-equipped to enjoy a strong showing in their first season back in the top-flight for 16 years.

On their return to the Premier League, Leeds’ first two games produced 14 goals and they were the first top-flight side to both score and concede seven goals in their first two matches since Liverpool in the 1932-33 season.

But they needed just one goal to earn a valuable victory at Bramall Lane.

“It was a just result. The first half was even. We could have scored, but we could have conceded and the second half was a lot better for us,” said Bielsa, who refused to discuss reports linking Leeds with a move for Norwich midfielder Todd Cantwell.

The Blades have now lost six successive league games dating back to last season and they remain without a league goal this term.

“I’ll be glad to see the back of September. Have we got another game in September? I don’t think we have. So, a fresh start in October at Arsenal!” Blades boss Chris Wilder said.

The bad news kept on coming just before kick-off when Blades defender Jack O’Connell was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

Leeds made a lively start to the first Yorkshire derby in the Premier League since 2001 as Luke Ayling tested Ramsdale from long range.

The Blades’ lack of confidence was clear and John Lundstram should have ended their barren run when he met Ben Osborn’s cross with a low strike, but Meslier flung himself to his right to make a superb save.

Ramsdale matched Meslier’s impressive stop with a fine save of his own as he kept out a rising drive from Stuart Dallas.

Meslier was unconvincing in Leeds’ first two games this season, but the 20-year-old made another good save to repel George Baldock’s rising drive.

Helder Costa and Bamford had strikes turned away by Ramsdale as the keepers remained on top at both ends.

Even when Dallas managed to get past Ramsdale, Chris Basham was there to clear off the line.

Ian Poveda came on for Leeds and the former Manchester City youngster immediately saw Ramsdale push his shot over.

But Bamford finally broke the deadlock in the 88th minute as he ended Ramsdale’s resistance with a close-range header from Harrison’s cross.

Atletico Madrid Announce Signing Of Luis Suarez From Barcelona

Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez controls the ball during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match against Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid announced the signing of Barcelona forward Luis Suarez late on Wednesday, confirming the Uruguayan striker is set to continue playing in La Liga rather than joining Juventus in Italy.

Barcelona said that Atletico had agreed to pay six million euros for Suarez, who left his last training session in tears on Wednesday having been told over the summer that he was no longer required by new coach Ronald Koeman.

Since joining Barca from Liverpool in 2014, Suarez has won a host of trophies, including the 2015 Champions League and four Liga titles.

He leaves as the club’s third-highest scorer with 198 goals behind Cesar Rodriguez (232) and Lionel Messi (634).

The move to Barcelona’s La Liga rivals follows a failed attempt to join Juventus.

Juve coach Andrea Pirlo disclosed last week a deal was unlikely because of delays in the Uruguayan’s bid to get an Italian passport.

On Tuesday, prosecutors in Perugia said they suspected Suarez of cheating to pass his Italian language test with the aid of examiners suspected of helping him.

The exit of the 33-year-old from Camp Nou comes as Koeman attempts to reshape Barcelona.

As well as Suarez, the Dutchman has shown the exit to Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic, while French defender Samuel Umtiti is also set to leave.

Spanish television channel Gol showed Suarez wiping away tears with his sleeve as he drove off after saying his last goodbyes to teammates at Barcelona’s Sant Joan Despi training centre.

Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

 

Lyon qualified for the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Friday despite losing 2-1 to Juventus in Turin.

A goal up after winning February’s first leg, French side Lyon will face Manchester City at the final tournament in Lisbon after drawing 2-2 on aggregate and going through on away goals.

Lyon squeezed past the Italian champions thanks to Memphis Depay’s 12th-minute penalty which put Rudi Garcia’s side two goals ahead in the tie and left Juve with a mountain to climb.

READ ALSO: Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

Needing to score three unanswered goals in order to go through, Cristiano Ronaldo tried his best to drag the Italian champions over the line.

He levelled the scores on the night with a penalty of his own with two minutes left in the opening period before crashing a second home on the hour mark.

However Juve performed poorly and Lyon managed to hold on to set up a clash with Pep Guardiola’s City, who put out 13-time winners Real Madrid, on August 15.

AFP

Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

 

Manchester City took advantage of two shocking mistakes by Raphael Varane to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League last 16-second leg on Friday and advance to the quarter-finals as Pep Guardiola came out on top in his duel with Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman had never been knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition as Real coach, leading them to three consecutive victories between 2016 and 2018 in his first spell before returning to the job last year.

But Madrid had been left with a mountain to climb in this tie after throwing away the lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg in Spain in February, before the coronavirus forced the competition into hibernation.

An identical defeat at an empty Etihad Stadium means it is City who advance 4-2 on aggregate.

READ ALSO: Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

Without Sergio Ramos due to suspension, Real were undone by mistakes by their other first-choice centre-back.

Varane was dispossessed inside the box in the ninth minute allowing Raheem Sterling to put City ahead, and his poor headed backpass attempt gifted Gabriel Jesus another goal midway through the second half.

Before that second goal the tie had been in the balance with the in-form Karim Benzema having scored for the visitors just before the half-hour mark.

The circumstances may be highly unusual, but this is still City’s finest Champions League result, their most significant victory in a knock-out tie.

Their best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, when they went out rather limply to Real.

Now they should very possibly be considered the favourites to win the competition in Lisbon on August 23.

If they do so, the victory would taste all the sweeter coming so soon after their successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport against a two-year ban from Europe handed down by UEFA for breaches of their Financial Fair Play rules.

They have already qualified for next season’s tournament after coming second in the Premier League but now they can look forward to facing Lyon in the quarter-finals next Saturday at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

Real, meanwhile, will get over this.

They have dined out on success in the Champions League in recent years but their main objective after the coronavirus shutdown was to win La Liga and they did that.

Zidane’s team overhauled Barcelona thanks to 10 successive victories after La Liga returned in June but they were not especially prolific in front of goal during that run, despite Benzema’s fine form.

Uphill struggle

It was already going to be an uphill struggle for them in the absence of Ramos, sent off late in the first leg, and their task became even harder after they conceded an early opener.

City’s high pressing paid off as Varane was barged off the ball in his own area by Jesus, who squared for Sterling to roll in.

There was a response from the 13-time European champions, though, with Benzema and Eden Hazard both forcing saves from Ederson before their equaliser on the night arrived in the 28th minute.

A fine move ended with Benzema feeding Rodrygo and the young Brazilian clipping in a cross from the right for the Frenchman, who rose above Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho to head in from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was his 65th goal in the Champions League, putting him one clear of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on the overall list and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.

Unfortunately for Real, Benzema was not able to add to that tally and this tie was effectively ended by another Varane blooper.

The Frenchman struggled with an awkward high ball downfield and his header back towards Thibaut Courtois was short, allowing Jesus to prod it beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.

Real will not return to Lisbon, where they won the Champions League in 2014, but the dream remains alive for Guardiola and City.

AFP

Serie A: Buffon Set To Overtake Maldini As Juve Eye Ninth Straight Title

FILES) In this file photo taken on April 11, 2018 Juventus’ Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon gives the thumb up during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match between Real Madrid CF and Juventus FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Gianluigi Buffon is ready to add another landmark achievement in his incredible career when Juventus face local rivals Torino on Saturday, with the former Italy captain expected to become Serie A’s all-time record appearance maker.

Italian media report that Buffon will take the field at the Allianz Stadium in place of Wojciech Szczesny and set a new league record of 648 appearances — one more than AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini — some 25 years after making his league debut for Parma and almost exactly 19 years after joining Juventus.

The reports come days after Buffon, 42, and fellow stalwart Giorgio Chiellini signed one-year contract extensions that will keep them both at Juve until the end of next season.

“The truth is that I’m still playing because I feel good, I’m competitive and also because I know I can get better,” Buffon said during a live interview on Instagram on Thursday.

“When you have room for improvement, you have that fire inside you that means you’re not satisfied with yourself.”

The landmark would be especially sweet for Buffon following his miserable season at Paris Saint-Germain, which sparked rumours of retirement before he returned home last summer.

December’s 2-1 win at Sampdoria crowned him Juve’s record Serie A appearance maker, and he also holds the appearance record for his national team, with 176 caps between 1997-2018, winning the 2006 World Cup.

A 10th league title with Juve is on the cards, and he still has a chance of winning the one trophy that has alluded him throughout his stellar career — the Champions League.

Should coach Maurizio Sarri make that decision he will give Buffon his first league start since December at a crucial weekend in the title race, with stubborn Lazio refusing to let go of Juve’s coattails.

The ‘Old Lady’ are four points ahead of Lazio, who take on Europe-chasing AC Milan right after the Turin derby with the league’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile and fellow forward Felipe Caicedo suspended.

Juve firepower

Juve meanwhile will be able to draw on Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo, authors of stunning goals in Tuesday’s 3-1 win at Genoa, ready for a Torino side in the middle of an alarming slump.

Moreno Longo’s side have lost seven of their last nine league matches and could yet be dragged into serious relegation trouble even though they are six points clear of the drop zone.

Atalanta continue to enchant fans and on Thursday practically guaranteed a return to the Champions League next season.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s fourth-placed side beat Napoli 2-0 to move 15 points clear of their opponents and crucially 12 ahead of Roma, who are fifth but in crisis after a dismal 2-0 home defeat to lowly Udinese.

Atalanta travel to mid-table Cagliari on Sunday on a seven-match league winning streak while Napoli host Roma with both teams hoping to hold off those eyeing their places in the Europa League.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side will surely be favourites against a Roma side whose performance against Udinese was widely reported as being described “shameful” by club president James Pallotta.

The defeat was the latest in a miserable 2020 for the capital club, who were close to being sold to American billionaire Dan Friedkin just before the coronavirus pandemic battered Italy, but are now in limbo after the deal collapsed.

On the pitch Roma have won just six of their 16 matches in all competitions this calendar year and coach Paulo Fonseca admitted he was “worried” about his team following Thursday’s awful display, saying that the problem was “mental”.

Both Napoli and Roma will be looking over their shoulders at Milan and Hellas Verona, who are in good form and ready to punish any slip-ups.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Juventus v Torino (1515), Sassuolo v Lecce (1730), Lazio v AC Milan (1945)

Sunday

Inter Milan v Bologna (1515), Brescia v Hellas Verona, Cagliari v Atalanta, Parma v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v SPAL, Ud

Three PSG Players Found To Have Virus During Lockdown

 

Three Paris Saint-Germain players and another member of staff were found to have contracted coronavirus during lockdown but are “no longer contagious” after further tests, the French champions said Tuesday.

PSG said the unnamed players were free to take part in training when it resumes later this week after undergoing “serological tests” on Monday.

READ ALSO: French Football Season Declared Over, PSG Awarded Title

“Those concerned had symptoms during confinement when they weren’t in contact with each other,” PSG said in a statement. “They are no longer contagious and can carry on their training programme.”

PSG still have big matches to look forward in the coming months despite the Ligue 1 season being ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are still to play in the French Cup and League Cup finals, as well as the Champions League ‘final eight’ tournament in Lisbon in August.

Just In: Leaders Bayern Munich Brush Aside Union On Bundesliga Return

Robert Lewandowski bagged his 26th league goal this season as leaders Bayern Munich maintained their four-point lead by brushing aside Union Berlin 2-0 behind closed doors on Sunday on the Bundesliga’s restart weekend.

READ ALSO: Dortmund Thrash Schalke As Bundesliga Makes ‘Very Strange’ Return

Lewandowski netted a first-half penalty and defender Benjamin Pavard added a late header in Berlin after the Bundesliga became the first top European league on Saturday to resume during the coronavirus pandemic.

Madrid’s ‘Worst Game Of Season’ In Betis Defeat, Lets Barca Back In

 

Real Madrid’s response to winning the Clasico was another surprise defeat on Sunday as they lost 2-1 away at Real Betis to hand the initiative straight back to Barcelona.

Betis were deserving victors of a thrilling contest at the Benito Villamarin where two galling Madrid errors cost them their place at the top of La Liga, with Barca now two points clear.

A heavy touch from Sergio Ramos led to Sidnei’s stunning opener for Betis and then Karim Benzema, who equalised with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, was at fault for their 82nd-minute winner.

Benzema’s misplaced pass in midfield allowed Cristian Tello to go clear and he held his nerve to give Betis their first victory in eight games that adds yet another twist to this season’s back-and-forth title race.

“We lacked everything today,” said Real coach Zinedine Zidane.

“It was our worst game of the season. We lacked energy, fluency, possession, aggression. It was a bad day and that can happen. I am responsible. We can’t lose our heads but we can’t be happy either.”

Madrid appeared to have taken a significant step forward, at least psychologically, by beating Barcelona 2-0 last weekend but this result undid all their good work at the Santiago Bernabeu while bringing defensive doubts swiftly back to the surface.

Betis climb to 12th and put eight points between themselves and the bottom three.

Madrid have now lost three out of their last four games and won only two from seven, a dip in form that has appeared even more charitable given Barca’s own problems on and off the pitch.

After a game at home to Eibar on Friday, Zinedine Zidane’s side will travel to Manchester City in the Champions League but on this evidence their hopes of recovering their 2-1 home defeat from the first leg would seem faint at best.

Ramos will be suspended at the Etihad Stadium and his own poor run of form continued against Betis, where he was at fault for their first goal and then complicit in compounding Benzema’s error for the second.

“We haven’t played the way we trained all week,” said Ramos. “We have to be self-critical. And now we have to wait for those above us to slip up.”

Eder Militao will likely come in for Ramos against City and he was given an outing at right-back in the absence of the ill Dani Carvajal while Marcelo was preferred to Ferland Mendy on the opposite side.

Gareth Bale was left out of the starting line-up for a fourth match running.

Betis were the better side in the first half and might have taken the lead earlier had Marc Bartra not headed over from four yards or Thibaut Courtois not reacted quickly to push away Nabil Fekir’s thundering shot.

But five minutes before half-time they finally broke through, aided by Ramos, who tried to dribble the ball out after Fekir’s shot was blocked only for a heavy touch to allow the forward to retrieve.

Off balance, Ramos bundled into Fekir and probably would have conceded a penalty had the loose ball not spilled to Sidnei, who instead hammered it into the top corner.

Deservedly in front, Betis then went in level at the interval as Sidnei, perhaps with the adrenaline still pumping, fouled Marcelo in the box. Benzema drove into the bottom corner for only his third goal this year.

Both teams had chances to find a winner. A scintillating Betis break ended with Sergio Canales sending Joaquin through but after rounding Courtois he tried to square back to Canales when the net looked open. Luka Modric sprinted back and hacked away.

Madrid enjoyed their own spell of pressure as Modric’s shot from distance was saved and Mendy, on for Marcelo, curled onto the crossbar, helped on its way by the fingertips of Joel Robles.

But it was Betis that landed the decisive blow, again benefitting from a Madrid mistake. Benzema came deep and his pass inside was loose, persuading Ramos to dash out to intercept but he was beaten and left stranded.

Andres Guardado put Tello through the gap and he sent Courtois diving towards one corner before sliding the ball into the other.

Chelsea Crush Everton To Cement Top Four Place

 

Frank Lampard warned Chelsea not to get complacent after they took control of the race to qualify for the Champions League with a 4-0 demolition of Everton on Sunday.

Lampard’s side won for just the second time in seven league games thanks to goals from Mason Mount, Pedro, Willian and Olivier Giroud in a masterful display at Stamford Bridge.

Fourth-placed Chelsea are in pole position to qualify for the Champions League with nine games to play.

But Lampard doesn’t want his stars to rest on their laurels just yet.

Aware that inconsistency has been the Achilles heel of his promising young team, Lampard said: “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. I’m experienced enough to know we go to Aston Villa next week, they are fighting for their lives and we have to replicate this performance.

“There’s still a long way to go. It’s still close. Even if it looks like a cushion as I sit here now, it doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s in our hands, but I’m certainly not going to jump in and say we are favourites. We have had inconsistency at times this season.”

While Lampard struck a cautious note about Chelsea’s Champions League ambitions, the Blues boss was quick to praise his players for delivering their biggest league win of the season.

It was exactly what Lampard demanded after Chelsea got back on track with their FA Cup fifth round win over Liverpool on Tuesday.

“At home yes, it was our best performance, because of the goals and the clean sheet,” Lampard said.

“In terms of performance we have been close to that a lot. We haven’t got the hard bit, the goals. Today we reached that.

“The finishing, the energy in the team, the speed of the pass, getting after the ball. We saw some really good stuff.

“It’s encouraging. You will always need your squad. We have a lot of injuries. The only way to tackle that is to work hard, play with energy and trust either other.

“I thought the whole attitude and focus of the team felt strong after Liverpool.”

Gilmour shines

Too often this term, Chelsea have dominated possession without killing off defensive opponents at Stamford Bridge.

But they tore into Everton from the start, with Mount and Pedro especially lively as they built on the platform provided by 18-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour.

Gilmour was making his first Premier League start after a fine display against Liverpool and the Scot did everything Lampard asked of him.

“In the position where he plays, receiving the ball under pressure, he has to show balls. He’s done that, then when he played further up the field later in the game, he immediately took that on as well,” Lampard said.

Everton’s revival under Carlo Ancelotti has hit the buffers, with a run of three games without a win exposing them as frauds in the Champions League battle.

“Everything went wrong. We were too open defensively. We lost a lot of duels and with the ball we did a lot of mistakes,” Ancelotti said.

“It is not difficult to analyse this game. It is the first game when we did not compete. We have to learn from this.”

Defeats against Arsenal and Chelsea, along with a draw against Manchester United, have left Everton to focus on a Europa League berth instead.

“We never said we could qualify for the Champions League, but we can fight for the Europa League,” Ancelotti said.

Asked if he was satisfied with Everton’s commitment, Ancelotti gave a pointed pause before saying: “There are things I can analyse with you, and things I can analyse with my players.”

AFP

Five Ties To Watch In The Europa League This Week

 

 

The Europa League knockout phase begins on Thursday, with VAR being introduced to Europe’s secondary club competition for the first time out with the final for the last 32, first-leg ties. AFP Sport picks five games to watch this week:

Man Utd in Bruges

Manchester United’s Champions League aspirations have been given a major boost in recent days, first with the news of Manchester City’s two-year ban from the competition. Then, on Monday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side beat Chelsea 2-0 away to close to within three points of their opponents in fourth place in the Premier League.

Now they revert their focus to the Europa League, which could also offer them a ticket to next season’s Champions League if they reach the final in Gdansk in May and lift the trophy.

United head to Belgium to take on Club Brugge in the first leg of their tie. Beaten by Liverpool in two European finals in the 1970s, Club Brugge are not a side to be taken lightly. They dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Real Madrid away, and are nine points clear atop the Belgian league.

Arsenal ‘deserve our respect’

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight games under Mikel Arteta, although the Gunners’ new Spanish boss could do with turning some of his team’s many draws into more victories.

Currently in mid-table in the Premier League, last season’s beaten finalists travel to face Olympiakos knowing this competition is surely their best bet if they are to return to the Champions League next term.

“They may not have started well in the Premier League this season, but they have great players, are dangerous and deserve our respect,” said Pedro Martins, the coach of Olympiakos.

The Greek league leaders dropped out of the Champions League group stage despite holding Tottenham Hotspur to a 2-2 draw in Piraeus.

Ajax set for battle in Spain

After enchanting Europe on their run to the Champions League semi-finals last year, Ajax were brought crashing back to earth when they were eliminated from this season’s competition in the group stage.

The Dutch champions were then handed a tough Europa League draw against a Getafe side who have been one of the stories of the season in Spain.

The unfashionable outfit from the working-class satellite town just south of Madrid finished fifth in La Liga last season and are currently third under Jose Bordalas, whose his idol as a youngster was Johan Cruyff.

“They are warriors. They fight for every ball and really give everything,” Ajax star Dusan Tadic told Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad. “They are physically very strong and go beyond the limits if necessary.”

It is Getafe’s first European knockout tie since they took Bayern Munich to extra time in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in 2008.

Will Salzburg survive without Haaland?

Erling Braut Haaland’s eight goals were not enough for Salzburg to qualify from the Champions League group stage, and the Austrians have since lost their striker to Borussia Dortmund. Japanese winger Takumi Minamino also departed for Liverpool, leaving them looking seriously weakened for the second half of the season.

Salzburg did sign Swiss starlet Noah Okafor, but their first league game after a long winter break ended in a 3-2 home defeat by title rivals LASK Linz last weekend.

Now Salzburg face Eintracht Frankfurt, meaning a reunion with Adi Huetter, who coached Salzburg to a league and cup double in 2015.

Celtic fairytale in Copenhagen?

Celtic have been eliminated at this stage in the last two seasons but should fancy their chances against FC Copenhagen as they head to Denmark.

While Celtic have claimed nine straight wins this calendar year, Copenhagen’s first league game of 2020 ended in defeat last weekend.

Current Celtic manager Neil Lennon was a player when the Glasgow giants lost 3-1 on their last trip to Copenhagen in the Champions League in 2006.

His team qualified by topping their group, and of this tie he said: “It’s great to have European football after Christmas, and it’s a tough draw. It could have been tougher, but it could have been easier.”