Three things we learned from the Europa League: Arsenal, Spurs, more
The Europa League’s Round of 16 took its first bows on Thursday, with very few surprises amongst its eight ties.
Manchester United drew AC Milan at Old Trafford thanks to a stoppage-time header from the visitors, while Steven Gerrard’s Rangers claimed an away goal draw at Slavia Prague.
[ MORE: Solskjaer on late concession to AC Milan ]
But Tottenham and Arsenal found their way to comfortable wins despite a hiccup or two from the Gunners, while Villarreal, Ajax, AS Roma, and Granada did what top-tier league teams often do against teams from leagues just or well below them.
Here are three things we took away from Thursday’s first legs.
1. Tottenham is in a good place
You can only play the teams on your schedule, but Tottenham is laying waste to all of them. Since losing to a rested West Ham on Feb. 21, Spurs have beaten Wolfsberger, Burnley, Fulham, Crystal Palace, and now Dinamo Zagreb by a combined 14-2. The Fulham win had plenty of luck involved but there’s been little of that needed in the other wins.
Harry Kane scored both of Tottenham’s goals to give him 26 on the season, and the forward is such a problem for defenses. And Spurs’ depth is a lot for teams from lesser leagues, as Lucas Moura, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Gareth Bale, Steven Bergwijn, and Carlos Vinicius all came off the bench to put the leg to bed. Jose Mourinho will have wanted more goals, but take the clean sheet heading into the North London dGabriel
2. Arsenal passes mettle test with gorgeous goals
Mikel Arteta’s men departed the Europa League at the hands of Olympiacos last season and there was reason for concern when Martin Odegaard’s early rocket was canceled out by Youssef El Arabi early in the second half.
The visitors, however, lost neither hope nor sight of their target in getting good goals from two unlikely sources in Gabriel Magalhaes’ soaring header and Mohamed Elneny’s scorching rip from well outside the 18. Gabriel also set up the Elneny goal, barely outshining a revenge-seeking and strong Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Look at these beauties:
3. This tournament is on-point
Manchester United’s drop into the Europa League from the Champions League set up a strong 16-team field with three Premier League clubs, and there should be almost exclusively high-profile draws after this round and well into the final stages. Last season’s final eight was great, and the Inter Milan-Shakhtar and Man United-Sevilla semifinals set the stage for a solid final. The previous year saw Arsenal-Valencia and Chelsea-Eintracht Frankfurt. With a Champions League spot now in play and the short shelf life for managers, there is no team that doesn’t want the silverware.
If the round ended after the first legs, the final eight would come from:
And even in the case of the one supreme underdog, Rangers bring an unbeaten league run and big name at manager in young Steven Gerrard.