With the added bonus of Europa League winners getting a Champions League spot next season, the second tier European competition looks more glittery than ever before. Here are a few talking points from all the action on Thursday night.
Bas Dost continues his personal upturn in fortune
After being Eredivisie’s top scorer in 2012, Bas Dost earned a move to ambitious German side Wolfsburg. But since his arrival in Germany, he has been a forgotten entity due to mediocre displays and stats as well as injuries. With the Wolves competing in three competitions, Dieter Hecking decided to give the forgotten man a few chances. He has capitalized on these chances superbly and made himself a sure starter for the club recently. A brace against Bayern Munich should have got him attention but the implosion happened a few weeks later. The Dutchman scored four goals in a high octane match against Bayer Leverkusen to make sure Wolfsburg come out on top in a game that ended 5-4 and has failed to leave the headlines ever since. The 25 year old scored a brace as Wolfsburg went on to record a 2-0 home win over Sporting Lisbon. Their Portuguese opponents never really looked threatening but importantly for the second placed side in Bundesliga, they got an important win to have one foot firmly planted in the competition, and their opponents didn’t get a crucial away goal.
Cracking match in Scotland
The clash between fallen giants Inter Milan and Scottish biggies Celtic didn’t disappoint. After 13 minutes, it looked like the tie was already over. Goals from Xherdan Shaqiri and Rodrigo Palacio had given Inter a match-winning lead. They were dominating the game completely and had the advantage of seeing that lead out or could have added more to their scoreline. The game looked settled but just 10 minutes later, Adam Matthews marauded on the right flank and exchanged passes with Stefan Johansen. He then made for the byeline and cleverly slid a cutback towards the back post for Stuart Armstrong to latch on to, who calmly put the ball in the back of the net. Suddenly, there was hope. To get a draw from there was not going to be a momentous task if Celtic could make sure Inter didn’t score again. Minutes later, Stefan Johansen hooked the ball into the box and hoped that a Celtic player would find it. It wasn’t one of the home players, but crucially for Deila’s team, Campagnaro’s shin helped the ball reach strike the back of the net anyway and Celtic had equalized. The visitors, who looked so calm in the early stages, had blown their lead. Inter got another chance at redemption as Palacio scored his second of the game in the stoppage time of the first half.
Ronny Deila decided to throw in his last available options of getting a result out of this game. He introduced Liam Henderson and John Guidetti with 15 minutes to play. In the absolute dying moments of the game, Johansen (once again) sent the ball into the area and substitute Guidetti (an Inter fan as a boy) controlled it calmly on his chest and struck the ball into the top corner of the net.
Proper cup game!
Liverpool’s begin European redemption on a positive note
Brendan Rodgers wanted a lead to take to the second leg of the game against Turkish side Besiktas, and he got just that, albeit with great difficulty. The manager is desperate for a trophy this time and the side also wants to send Steven Gerrard out on a great note. Liverpool began their journey in the competition on a bright note. The sensational Jordan Ibe got the hosts a penalty in the late moments in the game. Mario Balotelli coolly, but controversially, scored from the spot and Liverpool’s impressive recent record was left intact. There was one moment which looked agonizingly similar to last season’s game against Chelsea as Demba Ba went darting towards Mignolet and looked set to open the scoring and haunt the Kop once again, but the Belgian illustrated his recent resurgence with a calm save. The Reds will be boosted by this result, but they know that the second leg in Istanbul is going to be very tough, and there won’t be a certain Steven Gerrard to come to their rescue.
Could Spurs’ thus far non-existent fatigue issues show up in this crucial stage?
Pochettino rested three of his first team regulars as his side began a spell of six fixtures in 17 days. Tottenham’s fitness has been praised a lot this season, and now is the time for the team to actually make sure they are at their fit best if they want to get ambitious results in the three tournaments they are in at the moment. Because for one of the only times this season, the home side looked to be physically lacking.
Roberto Soldado got the home side the dream start as he volleyed in a goal in just the sixth minute. Spurs should have capitalized on moments, and could really have been 3 or 4 goals up just in the opening half an hour. But their pressure decreased as the match went on and Fiorentina eventually grabbed the equalizer and the crucial away goal. Vincenzo Montella’s switched Fiorentina’s formation from a 3-5-2 to a 4-5-1 system at the break and this was pivotal in getting the Italian side to control almost the entire second half.
Tottenham didn’t put up a really praise worthy performance and Pochettino would surely be dwelling on it afterwards. The White Hart Lane outfit has a very taxing schedule ahead of itself: West Ham United at home on Sunday followed by Fiorentina away on Thursday and then a very crucial League Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley three days after that. Spurs have been in a fantastic run of form recently but need to pick themselves again if they want to triumph in Europe and the league.
Lukaku’s “love for Everton”
Could this be the match that start’s Everton’s season? The Blues have hardly had the ideal campaign this season, much to the surprise of people who witnessed the terrific character and displays they put on last season. It looked a familiar route for Martinez’s side. Away to Swiss side Young Boys, Everton got hit pretty early on but found their way back into the game courtesy of a terrific individual display from Romelu Lukaku who scored a hat-trick and got a lot of praise from his manager who spoke about his love for the club that was on display in the match. He also became the only Everton player besides Alan Ball, Andy Gray and Yakubu to do so in Europe. Everton’s demonstration of grit was more on display when they played the last half hour a man down as John Stones was sent off. The Toffees have struggled in the Premier League but have looked good in the European competition from the beginning. However, this could be the kickstart the Everton team needed and a strong end in the league could ensure they finish in the top half of the table.