The Europa League semifinals are set after Friday’s draw, and Manchester United remain the bookies’ favourite to lift the cup. For some weeks, it has been evident that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has prioritised the Europa League as a way to get the Red Devils into next season’s Champions League. The team are now just two matches away from the Europa League final.
Four sides left in the Europa League
Joining Manchester United in the Europa League are Spain’s Celta Vigo, France’s Lyon and Dutch side Ajax. The tie of the semifinals is definitely the Lyon versus Ajax clash.
Lyon are through after an insane quarterfinal against Turkish side Besiktas. The two teams saw crowd trouble, fantastic goalkeeper saves, extra-time and a penalty shootout that Lyon won 7-6. Lyon are the team that is expected to face Manchester United in the final, but a young Ajax team now stand in their way.
Ajax got the scare of the quarterfinals as the Dutch team defeated Germans Schalke in the first leg 2-0. Looking down and out, Schalke fought back in Gelsenkirchen to go ahead 3-0 before Ajax scored two away goals in extra-time. Ajax won the tie 4-2 on aggregate.
Celta Vigo and Genk also put a stellar tie to rest in the quarterfinals as the Spanish team advanced after a 4-3 aggregate score to their first ever European semifinal.
Why the Europa League is great?
Although many will argue, but the Europa League is far more entertaining than the UEFA Champions League. The reason is simple, in the Europa League you see more diverse teams throughout the competition than in the Champions League.
Modern European football tends to see the same clubs and match ups in the Champions League. Ever year it seems we are treated, or not, to Arsenal, Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico continually clashing. It has got quite boring. The Europa League throws up more unique fixtures, even with Sevilla winning three straight cups, it was still a brilliant time to watch the competition.
UEFA Cup to Europa League
In 2009, UEFA rebranded the old UEFA Cup into the Europa League to revamp the competition. Despite being met with indifference when the announcement was made, the competition has benefitted and is equal or greater to the Champions League in entertainment.
Winners since 2009 rebrand:
2009-10: Atletico 2-1 Fulham
2010-11: Porto 1-0 Braga
2011-12: Atletico 3-0 Athletic Bilbao
2012-13: Chelsea 2-1 Benfica
2013-14: Sevilla 0-0 Benfica (Sevilla won on penalties)
2014-15: Sevilla 3-2 Dnipro
2015-16: Sevilla 3-1 Liverpool
Best Europa League goal
It is hard to narrow down the best goal to ever take place in the competition, but one that hit close to home for English and American football – or soccer – fans was Clint Dempsey’s winner against Juventus in 2009.
Deadlocked at four, Clint Dempsey’s cheeky chip from 18-yards out not only put Fulham into the quarterfinals, but kept alive the little London club’s dream of making a European final. The club did, but were undone by an inspired Diego Forlan in the cup final.
Sports bookies’ odds for the Europa League
Manchester United are still the favourites in the competition and Bovada has listed Mourinho’s side at -120 despite their difficulty in overcoming Anderlecht.
Lyon, who could face Manchester United in the final, are set at odds of +250. The French team’s semifinal opponents Ajax are +550 and Celta Vigo, who will play in their first ever European semifinal, are the long shot at +650.