In the opening day of the group stage of UEFA Europa League the Olympiastadion hosted an encounter between theoretically the two most solid teams of the group. While both teams displayed a man-oriented defending, their attacking approaches were quite different creating an interesting clash.
Infinitely-funded Manchester United faced Ajax – a side with an average age of under 23 – in the Europa League final. What followed was a typical Mourinho game in which he effectively shut-down the most threatening qualities of the opposition’s attack, while using a low-risk approach with the ball.
In the midst of the busy season, there are several good matches that initially pass under the radar due to the sheer number of fixtures. In this series, our authors analyse some of their favourite games from the 2015/2016 season.
The final day of the 2014-15 season saw Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side get thrashed 6-1 by a mediocre Stoke team. After challenging for the title in the previous season, the transfer of Luis Suarez and poor health of Daniel Sturridge created big issues and performance dropped off a cliff. Whilst Rodgers was previously able to rely on his talented personnel, he struggled to implement a consistent strategy from this point onwards. He was granted the start of the 2015-16 season to rectify the issues, but was unable to do so. He was sacked after a 1-1 draw with Everton in October. A few days later, Jurgen Klopp was hired.
Following a turbulent win over Dortmund in the previous round, Liverpool came into the next round as favourites for the competition. But the underrated Villarreal had no intention of rolling over, and provided a typically strong defensive performance to take a narrow 1-0 win after a last-minute winner from Adrian Lopez.
After a tense first leg, both teams faced up at Anfield in a much greater attacking focus and the result was a more chaotic game. It was decided by intelligent changes from Klopp in the second half as he produced another miracle, yet this time from the opposite dugout.
On Sunday the 31st of May 2015 Napoli lost 4-2 at home to Lazio in their final game of the 2014-15 Serie A season. The result finally ended Napoli’s slim chances of qualifying for the Champions League in the next season as they finished 5th. To make matters worse (so it seemed) head coach Rafa Benitez was set to leave and take over at Real Madrid, and with Lazio’s emergence under Pioli, Napoli fans could be forgiven for feeling pessimistic. It was an all too familiar feeling of uncertainty for the Napoli faithful only two seasons after Mazzarri left for Inter after guiding them to their highest finish since their Scudetto winning campaign of 1989-90.
Dortmund played host to Liverpool in one of the most highly-anticipated Europa League games in recent years. The talk of the game was largely based around Jürgen Klopp’s first return to Dortmund after leaving the side last year, however we saw a much more interesting story on the pitch in a tactically-intriguing match-up.
Thursday night treated us to the biggest game of the mid-week European fixtures as the top team in England travelled to the second-best team in Germany in what had the potential to be an excellent Europa League match-up. Tuchel elected to field a near-full strength side whilst Pochettino, who seemingly values his chances at a Premier League title more than the value of the Europa League, opted to start with a rather depleted line-up.
Dortmund made a somewhat lacklustre performance after Casillas’ first own-goal of his career virtually ensured Dortmund’s qualification. Tuchel’s side started the game poorly but managed to score the only goal of the game after Casillas turned an offside Aubameyang shot into his own net, and from that point onward lacked intensity as the side aimed to see the game through with minimal exertion.