Europa League Round Up: Ajax and Fenerbahce with work to do

Europa League

Some people may dismiss the Europa League due to the larger profile of the Champions League. However, at this stage of the competition, the mixing pot of European giants and small clubs can create a real spectacle. Clubs in the competition include big names such as Ajax, AC Milan, and Fenerbahce who had varying degrees of success in the first leg of the Europa League Play-Off rounds.

The Italian heavyweights AC Milan are looking to return to their former glory after declining in the last few years and have shown their intent during the summer, signing plenty of big name players. They were put up against Macedonian side KF Shkendija for this stage of the Europa League after beating CS Universitatia Craiova 3-0 in the last round. Shkendija had done well up to this point, beating Dacia Chisinau, HJK and Trakai to get to this round, but they proved to be no match for the Milan club. The score was 3-0 to AC Milan by the 28th minute thanks to two goals from Andre Silva and one from Riccardo Montolivo. The second half was more of the same, as Fabio Borini and Luca Antonelli got in on the act and Montolivo got his second of the game to make the final score 6-0. The sides will be playing again in Macedonia, but it will take something incredible for Shkendija to reach the group stages.

Fenerbahce have already seen their natives Galatasaray knocked out of the Europa League and so will be looking to avoid the same fate. They had a test in the last round against Sturm Graz but just about navigated their way through with a 3-2 aggregate win. Their opponents in this round, FK Vardar from Macedonia had been knocked out of the Champions League by Copenhagen but had won 1-0 at home, showing that they can be hard to beat on their patch. The Macedonians have shown this again as they won the first leg of their current tie 2-0 at home thanks to a first half goal from Tigran Barseghyan and an own goal from Mehmet Topal in the dying moments of the game. Both teams will have a suspension in the next round as Boban Grncharov was given a second yellow in the 89th minute and Josef de Souza received a straight red in the 93rd minute. They may be without one of their main midfielders, but Fenerbahce can be buoyed by the fact that Vardar lost the away leg of the Champions League tie 4-1 against Copenhagen when the sides meet again on Thursday.

Everton have been growing as a Premier League power and have had an impact on the European stage in the past, but have been in and out of the Europa League since the tournament took on its new name. Their last appearance was in 2014-15 where they went out in the Round of 16 against Dynamo Kyiv. This time around they face Hajduk Split following victory over Ruzomberok. Something that has proved vitally important for English teams in European knock out rounds is to win their home legs and Everton have managed to do just that thanks to first half goals from Michael Keane and Idrissa Gueye handing them a 2-0 lead. Everton haven’t failed to make it to the group stages in either of their two previous Europa League campaigns and this win gives them a good chance of continuing that record.

Last year was one of the most exciting that Ajax have had in years as Peter Bosz’s young side made it to the final of the Europa League with a team full of talented players. However, with Bosz leaving to join Borussia Dortmund, his replacement Marcel Keizer has a seemingly tough job on his hands already. Two of Ajax’s main men last year, club captain Davy Klaassen and star centre back Davinson Sanchez have both left to play in the Premier League and need to be replaced, while dealing with the emotional stress of Abelhak Nouri’s life changing injuries will also be hard for the club. They will have been hoping that the Europa League would be the springboard needed to get their season going after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Nice, but they haven’t got off to the best of starts. Their home form in the tournament last season was the main thing that carried them through to the final, however, this time around it is something that they will have to make up for if they are to progress. This is because they have lost their home leg against Rosenborg 1-0, due to a 77th-minute goal from Samuel Adegbenro. Rosenborg themselves were knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers after losing 1-0 on aggregate to Celtic, so both teams will see the second leg as their chance to make sure that they at least have Europa League football this season after missing out on the Champions League.

There are many more ties which have seen traditionally big European clubs fighting for an advantage going into the second leg of their Play Off round ties. Panathinaikos and Athletic Bilbao faced off with the Spanish side winning 3-2, Marseille drew 1-1 with Domzale while Dynamo Kyiv drew 0-0 with Maritimo.

The top scorer in the competition is still Richard Boakye despite his failure to score in Red Star Belgrade’s 3-2 loss against Krasnodar. He has seven goals and three assists.

Five matches to look out for in the second leg of the Europa League Play off round are: Legia Warsaw (1-1) Sheriff Tiraspol, Rosenborg (1-0) Ajax, Marseille (1-1) Domzale, Fenerbahce (0-2) Vardar and BATE Borisov (1-1) Oleksandriya.