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  • Soccerex 2017

Europa League: Mixed fortunes for English clubs, as Chelsea and Tottenham win, Newcastle draw and Liverpool lose

 

Some cynics might argue that English clubs do not take the Europa League seriously, but with the knockout stages well underway, the four English teams in the last 32 looked to show that they mean business.

First up was Liverpool, who had an early kick off away at Zenit St. Petersburg. Brendan Rodgers said after his sides defeat to West Brom at the weekend that he was confident they would respond in the right manner against Zenit, and with over an hour played at 0-0, his side certainly seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Indeed it was the away side who had the upper hand, with main man Luis Suarez having several great opportunities. But just like West Brom at the weekend, a double salvo from Zenit undid all Liverpool's hard work and left them with a tough task in the return leg at Anfield.

Zenit went ahead on 70 minutes after Jordan Henderson lost possession in the middle of the park, and striker Hulk capitalised with a fine finish. No sooner had the game restarted, Zenit went forward again and the ball was whizzed across the Liverpool box to the far post, where Glen Johnson was caught napping, and Semek came through with the finish.

For Chelsea, who kicked off during Liverpool's match, it was a case of job done in Prague, with a clean sheet and a precious away goal to take back to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had the better of the match, but it was only when substitute Oscar provided the goal in the 83rd minute that their control payed off.

In the later kick offs, Newcastle and Tottenham played host to Metalist and Lyon respectively. The game ended goalless at St. James Park, but a clean sheet and no away goals for the visitors is not a result to be sniffed at. 

Newcastle twice had the ball in the back of the net, with Cisse the scorer on both occasions, but he was twice ruled offside, but overall it was a frustrating game for the team, who will no doubt be expecting to progress after the return leg next week.

The game of the night came at White Hart Lane, where two stunning Gareth Bale free kicks, one in stoppage time of each half, earned Spurs a 2-1 lead going into the second leg.

Bale had started in the middle and had been fairly quiet as Spurs were subdued by the visitors, thought the combination Of Walker and Lennon down the right was causing the French team trouble. But when Bale stepped up in stoppage time to take a free kick from 36 yards after a foul on Dembele, there was only place it was going. He struck with the side of his foot over the wall, with the ball swerving to the left and wrong footing the keeper.

Despite Bale's stunning effort, Spurs started slowly in the second half, and Lyon put pressure on the home side, which eventually paid off ten minutes into the half when left back Samuel Umtiti hit a strike to put Bale's in the shade.

A ball was played in from the right and headed away by William Gallas, straight into the path of the onrushing left back, who let the ball bounce before lashing an audacious effort from the left hand edge of the box into the right side of the goal, leaving Brad Friedel with no chance. It was a strike that none would have contemplated, and must really be seen to be believed.

Lyon were buoyed by their equaliser, and as the match wore on looked the more likely to grab the winner, but in stoppage time Spurs got another free kick, this time significantly closer to the box. Up stepped Bale again, and in a near carbon copy of his first strike, swerved the ball into the back of the net, and gave Spurs the winner.

Looking ahead to next weeks second legs, Chelsea are perhaps in the best position playing at home with a lead. Whilst Liverpool play at Anfield, their two goal disadvantage, and the threat of an away goal from Zenit, makes their task less stra­igh­tfor­ward. Newcastle will be optimistic ahead of their tie with away goals a huge incentive for the side, whilst Spurs have to defend a lead, but with Lyon's away goal that could prove the most hard to predict of the ties.

One thing is for certain, with the likes of Suarez, Gerrard, Bale Cisse all starting for their respective clubs tonight, English clubs are definitely getting serious about the Europa League.
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