It’s fair to say that in recent years the centre of attention has never been on the Europa League. However, the draw for the last 16 sees two footballing giants battle it out on the European stage for the very first time – Manchester United and Liverpool. Although both teams have the history, the reputation and of course the silverware, they are both outside of the top four in the Premier League and are facing each other in the second tier of European football. With that being said – is there much anticipation heading into this two-legged encounter?
If you think about how it makes an appreciative football fan feel, you’d have to say yes. This is a game of football between two teams who have an immense rivalry, who have dominated British football in different eras. It is unfortunate that they are not competing against each other in the most lucrative European competition – the Champions League, but to finally see this spectacle take place outside of English football is something that we all must savour. This encounter will once again put English teams on the map in the Europa League. It’s the first time two English sides have played each other in the UEFA Cup/Europa League since 1973, when Liverpool faced Tottenham Hotspur, with the team from Merseyside going on to win the tournament.
Manchester United and Liverpool have come close to playing each other in the Champions League in recent years. In 2008, Six Alex Ferguson went on to win the competition, but Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side were defeated by Chelsea in the semi-finals. Unfortunately what would’ve been the biggest game in club football history never came to light on the level of that magnitude. Liverpool avoided playing Manchester United in the Champions League, matching Chelsea in the knockout stage on three separate occasions. Although their rivalry with Chelsea has intensified, it doesn’t come close to one with the team from Old Trafford. This was the period where both were genuine title contenders. Contrast to the present day and both teams are currently off the pace in the Premier League.
This is a reason why some fans don’t see this upcoming Europa League tie as the most mouth-watering affair. With the quality of teams at an major time low, this tie could signify the current status of both and the realisation that this could be the level of football played for the foreseeable future if changes are not put into place. The big names are lacking too in comparison to previous squads. Louis van Gaal has been forced to figure youth players in his side due to a number of injuries. Players like Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela may not understand the values that come with featuring in a match of this magnitude. The same also goes for Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp filtering many youngsters into his first team like Brad Smith Joao Carlos Teixeira.
Despite this, the opportunity to qualify for next season’s Champions League makes this tie ever more enticing. This is only the second season that this rule has been implemented, with Sevilla becoming the first team to receive this perk after winning the 2015 edition of the competition. This must make this last-16 tie ever more interesting, especially if you were to look at the current Premier League table. Both are off the pace, due to too many inconsistent performances which gives the Europa League the only hope to qualify for next season’s primary European tournament. This opportunity should spur both teams on, with Tottenham hopefully progressing to the latter stages also. Chelsea were the last English team to win the competition, defeating Benfica 2-1 after extra time in 2013. Despite this, you’d have to go back to 2001 to find another English victorious side.
Europa League or Champions League, football fans make the most the moment when Louis van Gaal and Jurgen Klopp’s sides face off against each other for the first time in European history. In an ideal world, it would be nice if this match took place in the mid-to-late 2000’s at a higher level, where both teams won the champions league in this period. Despite this, the match will be sure to make headlines around the world.
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