The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.
In an intriguing tie we’ll see the Europa League holders Villarreal take on Serie A giants Juventus, who have just bolstered their squad with a £66 million striker in Dusan Vlahovic during January.
Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Route to the last 16
La Liga outfit Villarreal were able to secure their path into the knockout stages after pipping Atalanta to the runners-up spot in their group.
Unai Emery’s side suffered defeats home and away to Manchester United, but went undefeated beyond that and had their place confirmed prior to the final group game.
Juventus on the other hand were able to clinch top spot thanks to a 1-0 win over Malmo in their final group game, while Chelsea were held by Zenit.
Max Allegri’s team earned five wins from their six games, but it was a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Thomas Tuchel’s Blues that will give Emery’s side confidence heading into the final game.
Villarreal will be without their top scorer Gerard Moreno for the game, while Francis Coquelin and Ruben Pena will also miss the game. January signing Giovanni Lo Celso is a doubt, while Etienne Capoue is also expected to be racing against time to be available.
Arnaut Danjuma has been one of the stand out players for the Yellow Submarine so far this season, and his performances have seen him ear-marked as the true danger man for Juventus to deal with.
Juventus welcome Vlahovic to Europe’s elite competition for the first time in his career after his big money move from Fiorentina, and he should start.
Paulo Dybala is expected to miss the game, while Federico Chiesa is out for the rest of the season with an ACL tear. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will miss the game, which will likely see Danilo partner Matthijs De Ligt in the heart of defence.
Breakdown and Prediction
This is a game that will be decided by who plays less badly over the two legs, because neither team are particularly good right now.
Villarreal will be sturdy off the ball with their setup there to contain Juventus and pick them off on the counter with Danjuma’s pace.
Juventus are trying to become a ball dominant side who can sustain attacks and apply constant pressure to their opposition, but they’re in shocking form and really struggling this season.
Neither team have much chance of doing big things in this tournament this season, but in a game likely to be close you’d have to make the assumption that individual quality will make a difference.
Ultimately, the goals of Vlahovic will likely prove vital in this tie and the home tie back in Turin for the second leg should see Juventus qualify – just.
Villarreal 1-1 Juventus Juventus 2-1 Villarreal (Juventus to qualify 3-2 on aggregate)
With Newcastle United set to complete their task of appointing a new manager this week, the Premier League’s managerial hotseats have just become even more full.
It seems as though Eddie Howe will be the man to fill the void at St James’ Park, after Unai Emery sensationally rejected their offer after being interested in a move earlier in the week. But with 19 other managers in a job currently, where do they all rank?
I’ve ranked each manager and explained (briefly) my reasoning for their position based on preference of style, achievements and coaching of players.
19. Daniel Farke – Norwich
Twice Farke has come up to the Premier League with his Norwich side, and twice he’s been absolutely battered every time.
The German has a style but it seems to be more accustomed to the Championship, where his side is one of the big dogs and he can’t turn that into anything substantial at the top level, so he must go at the bottom.
18.Sean Dyche – Burnley
Maybe controversial for him to be so low, but the style of football grinds me and he’s got nothing other than scraping survival year on year to show for it.
The one season he tried to expand a little saw Burnley dumped out of the Europa League before the group stages even started. The football is too old school for me, but he gets results so it keeps him off the bottom.
17. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United
Another potentially controversial selection, the Manchester United boss is in the relegation spots here.
No obvious style of play, no defensive awareness about his sides and results only tend to come because of the quality of player he has at his disposal. If he got another Premier League job it would be in this region of the table.
16.Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton
This is a weird one for the Austrian, because he’s clearly got something about him.
Hassenhuttl likes to play expansive, attacking football but while his ideas are the right ones he seems to struggle with the actual execution of them. 9-0 defeats in consecutive seasons tells me he’s too stubborn to adapt too, so he slots in towards the bottom.
15. Claudio Ranieri – Watford
It seems harsh to have a Premier League winner this far down the rankings, but times have moved and Ranieri isn’t what he once was.
The ‘tinkerman’ tends to play counter-attacking football but it all seems very freestyled when watching his sides and defensively they’ve never been the best. His achievements earn him this height though.
14.Mikel Arteta – Arsenal
Hear me out. Arteta’s Arsenal are showing improvements in recent months now that he doesn’t have many injuries, but I’m still not convinced.
They seem organised enough for now, but the discipline issues remain and whenever they concede a goal they look frail mentally. He’s young in his career and could certainly move up the list in years to come but for now, he’s low down in my ranking of bosses.
13. Bruno Lage – Wolves
Not a lot of experience for the Portuguese manager here, but what he did at Benfica really stands out to me.
Plenty of focus on attacking football, using different player profiles to get what he needs from his teams. They play exciting football and score goals and the fact he has switched Wolves around as quickly as he has is testament to his coaching skills. Like Arteta, he could move up the ranks over the years.
12. Dean Smith – Aston Villa
Smith may have hit his ceiling with Aston Villa now, but the job he has done to this point is nothing short of excellent.
He took over in the Championship, got them to play front-foot, attacking football while also setting up a good defensive base and was rewarded with a cup final and a top half finish. He’s probably at his peak as a coach now, which means mid-table is where he sits.
11. Patrick Vieira – Crystal Palace
There may be a bit of recency bias in this pick, but the job Vieira is doing at Selhurst Park is incredibly good right now.
He struggled at Nice after moving from the MLS but the way in which he has transformed the squad’s way of playing in such a short space of time is delightful. Possession football with young and flairy players, Vieira’s stock is only going to rise.
10.Thomas Frank – Brentford
Honestly, I can’t praise this man enough. The job he has done since taking over at Brentford has been tremendous, but the transition they have made into Premier League football is even better.
They play attacking football, with a mix of possession and going direct, while they’re brave with playing out from the back and strong defensively. I fully expect them to stay up and think Frank will be on a lot of club’s radars higher up the league should the managerial merry-go-round start later this season.
9. Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion
Not a big name in the slightest but the job he has done since coming to English football has not gone unnoticed.
Potter’s sides play excellent possession football with a major focus on control and scoring goals, just like a Pep Guardiola side. He’s still young in his career to rank him much higher than this, but you have to assume that with better players he gets better results, so he’s one to keep an eye on.
8.Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds United
Possibly the most gung-ho manager in all of football, Bielsa’s methods and philosophy are legendary across Europe and now he does it for Leeds.
The one vs one battles he creates all over the pitch rely on intense discipline from each player and unbelievable fitness levels, something he drills into every player. He improves individuals on a regular basis and entertains, but really should’ve won more in his career considering the reputation he has.
7. Rafa Benitez – Everton
A Champions League winner, a La Liga winner, an FA Cup winner, Rafa Benitez is one of the best coaches of his generation.
The issue for him unfortunately, is that generation was about 15 years ago. Rafa was at his best in the mid 2000’s to mid 2010’s during his time with Valencia and Liverpool but since then his football has become very rigid and uninspiring. He can still get results, but I don’t expect him to pull up any trees between now and the end of his career.
6.David Moyes – West Ham
Moyes’ career seemed dead and buried after his Man United spell almost a decade ago, but the way he has built his reputation back up has been nothing short of excellent.
He’s build a West Ham side that now competes with the best teams in the country when they face off against each other and is one of the toughest to beat, while also scoring plenty of goals going forward. The only thing he’s missing now is a trophy or two.
5.Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City
Rodgers showed what a great coach he was during his time with Watford and Swansea, then the Liverpool job when he made them genuine title contenders with brilliant, attacking football.
That job came a little early for him in the end, but he went to Celtic and was dominant and has made Leicester a truly competitive side. He even added the FA Cup to his trophy cabinet, so he is comfortably the best of the rest for me.
4.Antonio Conte – Tottenham
The new Tottenham manager has a proven CV in the managerial world and is without a doubt one of the best in the world.
His 3-4-3 formation has seen him win Serie A titles, a Premier League title and an FA Cup and his management style makes all his sides incredibly difficult to beat. Sometimes though, that pragmatism takes over and not losing gets prioritised over winning, so he just misses out on the top three.
3. Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea
A brilliant thinker with positive attacking football his forté, Tuchel has come to Chelsea and flipped a switch to become a brilliant defensive coach now.
Chelsea barely ever concede goals and yet they still find a way to score goals and win trophies. He’s shown he can do all sides of the game to a high level and has the trophies to boot with a Champions League winners medal so he goes in at third.
2.Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
When it’s all said and done and Guardiola hangs up his coaching hat, he could go down as one of the absolute best ever.
He’s won everything there is to win twice over, playing brilliant attacking football and revolutionising the way teams all over the world approach the game. He improves players individually, improves teams endlessly and wins games with style. The only flaw for me is he’s always had to spend a lot of money to do it, but that’s why teams bring him in and he always delivers.
1. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool
For me, the best coach in world football not just the Premier League.
Klopp came into a Liverpool side and implemented a brand new style immediately, and slowly but surely built his squad to become one of the best sides in modern history that won it all. They play fast-paced football with the first though always to score goals, have pace and are brave in their positions.
If I was starting a football club and could make anyone the manager, I’d pick Klopp.
An appointment was expected to be made by this point, but the club wanted to ensure that they made the right choice when trying to take steps to stay in the Premier League and also plan a long-term project.
After being linked with the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, the club had now settled on former Sevilla and Arsenal manager Unai Emery to take the reigns and it was believed there was positivity around a deal happening.
But after overseeing Villarreal’s win over Young Boys in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Spanish press have reported that he has taken the decision to reject their offer and ultimately stay with the La Liga side.
Emery was in charge of Sevilla when they wont a hat-trick of Europa League trophies, and oversaw a domestic treble during his time as manager of Paris Saint-Germain too.
Most recently Emery made the final of the Europa League as Arsenal manager before then winning the tournament with Villarreal against Manchester United last season.
A vastly experienced coach with a clear vision for how he wants to play, Emery seemed a very sensible choice for the role where he will have money to spend on new players and also be given time to oversee his project.
Newcastle were willing to pay £5m in compensation to Villarreal and agree to his financial demands, but it now seems that the deal is dead in the water.
Eddie Howe was also in the picture for the role as a backup to Emery and it now seems as though he will become the first-choice option to be in charge against Brighton this weekend.
The end of a long, tumultuous club campaign is finally upon us as we enter European cup final week, starting with the Europa League.
Unai Emery’s Villarreal look to secure themselves Champions League qualification for next season when they take on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, who are looking to earn their first trophy together with the former player at the helm.
Emery has won the competition three times previously, all with Sevilla, while he also made the final in 2019 as manager of Arsenal although they lost 4-1 to Chelsea. United on the other hand are reaching their first final in any competition since losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea in 2018 and will look to win their first trophy since winning the Europa League in 2017 under Jose Mourinho.
Villarreal made it to the final unbeaten in the competition throughout, winning 11 of their 14 games so far this season. They’ve showed some great attacking flair, scoring 27 goals but have also been able to shut up shop when necessary and defend well, conceding just eight times.
They were able to skip past Arsenal will relative ease in the semi-finals, winning the home tie before keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at the Emirates to secure their path to Gdansk, with Emery switching up his approach for each game.
Manchester United only entered the tournament at the knockout stages after crashing out of the Champions League before Christmas. They’ve had a pretty tough run of it too, but were able to comfortably navigate their way to the final with aggregate wins over Real Sociedad, AC Milan, Granada and Roma.
United have scored 18 times in the Europa League this season in just eight games, and had conceded just once before the semi-final affair with Roma which saw them win 8-5 on aggregate.
They’ve been the favourites since dropping down into the tournament and have lived up to that tag well, controlling all the ties they’ve been part of for the vast majority of the time on the pitch.
Solskjaer’s side essentially picks itself at the moment. Harry Maguire’s injury is the biggest question mark, because if he is unavailable then the decision must be made about whether to start the more experienced Eric Bailly or the in-form Axel Tuanzebe alongside Victor Lindelof.
It seems almost certain that he’ll continue with his favoured McFred combination in midfield, which means Paul Pogba will start in one of the wide positions again. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes are almost sure to start, which means the final spot comes down to whether Mason Greenwood or Edinson Cavani will start up front – with my money going on ‘El Matador’.
Emery’s team selection is a bit more fluid, depending on what type of approach he chooses to take. Winger Samuel Chukwueze is expected to be fit enough to at least be on the bench but whether the manager chooses to go with a more defensive approach could decide the rest of his midfield.
He’s likely to opt to sit back and force United to try and break them down, something they have notoriously struggled with under Ole’s tenure at the club.
With that said though, Solskjaer has managed to build the strongest team that United have had since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and they’re best placed to win the competition. They have the better individual players, are in better form and even without Maguire they should be good enough to hold strong defensively.
It will likely be a very cagey affair, with not many goals unless someone can score early on. But I can’t see past Manchester United getting the victory with the added quality they have and it’ll likely be that man Fernandes to pop up with the winner.
Arsenal were dumped out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage by former manager Unai Emery’s Villarreal side to set up a final in Gdansk against Manchester United.
The Gunners came into the game knowing they had to win after losing the first leg 2-1 and Mikel Arteta set the team up with a five-at-the-back formation that was troubled before the game even started, with Granit Xhaka getting injured in the warm up.
Kieran Tierney came in but Arsenal struggled throughout, having just two shots on target in the 90 minutes as they were held to a 0-0 draw and dumped out of the tournament.
Villarreal remain unbeaten throughout the tournament so far and Emery has now made it to a record five Europa League finals, after winning three-in-a-row with Sevilla before losing in the final to Chelsea as Arsenal manager in 2019.
They will now face Manchester United in the final who’s first leg 6-2 win was enough to see them through as they lost 3-2 on the night in Rome and saw off a little scare.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to get to his first final as manager of the club and he named a strong team on the night despite the club being set to play four games in seven days prior to kick off. Edinson Cavani gave the Reds the lead to settle any nerves, but Roma scored two goals in very quick succession to give themselves hope.
Cavani scored once again to wrap up progression, although Roma scored once more to earn themselves a win when youngster Nicola Zalewski’s strike came off Alex Telles and went through David De Gea’s legs.
Despite that, United showed they were the better team throughout the two legs and can finally put the ridiculous semi-final curse under Solskjaer behind them.
Arsenal must now really consider their future, as they face having no European football whatsoever next season for the first time in 25 years. The club are currently sat in ninth place and unless they can make up a five point swing over Liverpool, who have played a game less, in four games then they will be without.
Arteta was a gamble at the time of his appointment and it is one that has failed. Despite winning the FA Cup in his first season, he has accumulated just 49 points in 34 games and this season has failed to make it to a final of any cup competition.
Manchester United on the other hand will be favourites going into the final in Poland, with the better players and team than Villarreal but Emery’s experience in winning this competition will prove vital without a doubt.
United do have weaknesses in the way they play and Emery will undoubtedly look to expose those issues to help the Spanish side win the first European trophy in their history.
In a fun coincidence the final will be played on May 26th, the same date that Solskjaer famously scored the winning goal in the UEFA Champions League final back in 1999 as the Red Devils won the treble.
The Europa League is down to its final four teams and there are some very intriguing ties to be played out to decipher who will lift the trophy come the end of the season.
Premier League side Manchester United will take on Serie A side AS Roma as the two remaining strongest teams in the competition, with Arsenal going head-to-head against their former manager when they take on Villarreal.
We’ll preview both knockout ties once again and give our predictions as we have done for every English club tie in the competition so far, starting with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side taking on former boss Unai Emery’s new team with his Europa League prowess in full flow again.
The La Liga side went through the group stages of the tournament unbeaten, winning five of the six games and conceding just five goals. They were able to finish above Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Sivasspor and Qarabag before being drawn against RB Salzburg in the last 32 of the competition.
They dispatched of the Austrian side winning both home and away, before also beating Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 both home and away to set up a quarter-final tie against Dinamo Zagreb. Emery’s side then won both legs of that tie against the Croatian side, to maintain an unbeaten record throughout the tournament so far this season.
Unai Emery has won the tournament three times before, winning a hat-trick with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016. He also reached the final as manager of the Gunners back in 2019, but they were thumped 4-1 by Chelsea in the final.
He was sacked the following season, allowing for Arteta to take over the reigns where he has struggled to find any sort of consistent form since.
This season he was able to navigate the group stages with relative ease, coming through a group containing Dundalk, Molde and Rapid Wien with six wins from six games. They then took on Benfica in the round of 32 and managed to progress thanks to a late winner from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the second leg, before a last 16 tie against Olympiacos saw them win the home leg 3-1 meaning the 1-0 home defeat still saw them progress.
They then faced off with Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals, where they drew 1-1 at the Emirates Stadium before a thumping 4-0 win in Prague got them to this stage.
Domestically, both sides have had differing seasons too. Villarreal currently sit in seventh place with 49 points from 33 games having lost three of their last four games, while Arsenal sit in tenth in the Premier League with 46 points from 33 games. For both teams this is their final chance at claiming a Champions League place for next season, while for Arsenal it could be their only hope at European football at all.
Arsenal have the better players individually, but Arteta has really struggled to get them playing to their capabilities. Emery has mastered this competition and Villarreal’s undefeated run to this point certainly makes them favourites in my books.
Gerard Moreno is a goalscoring machine this season with 20 in all competitions and with Dani Parejo, Samuel Chukwueze and Paco Alcacer all among the supporting cast they have enough quality to punish Arsenal.
The first game being in Spain is a big advantage to Arsenal since they’ll be at home for the second leg and know what needs to be done to secure qualification, but even still I expect Emery to be able to find the weaknesses in the Gunners side and expose them enough to secure yet another Europa League final.
Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal Arsenal 1-1 Villarreal (Villarreal to progress 3-2 on aggregate)
After Unai Emery made it his priority to sign a young French midfielder named Matteo Guendouzi, Arsenal fans seemed to fall in love with him.
His bouncing ‘fro along with his age and the fact the club reportedly beat clubs like PSG to his signing meant he was an image that fans looked to as a potential future star.
Once he started playing, fans praised him for his bravery and ability on the ball. He was constantly running, constantly showing for the ball, not afraid to collect and receive on the half-turn deep in his own half and not afraid to get stuck in in a more physical league than he would have been used to.
All of these reasons led to Arsenal fans dubbing Guendouzi as the next big thing not only at Arsenal, but potentially in Europe. He was mentioned in conversations alongside the top prospects in the world football and was seen as a shining light despite Arsenal’s lowly league positions and poor performances.
When Mikel Arteta took over, fans expected Guendouzi to be the star in a possession based game. Instead he’s barely featured.
Originally he played games here and there while Arteta figured out his team. Granit Xhaka established himself quickly as the number one midfielder and Guendouzi found himself competing against the likes of Dani Ceballos, Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock for a place in the team. Then they took on Brighton and Guendouzi’s attitude issues seemingly came to light.
After a clash with Neil Maupay, Guendouzi reportedly told him that he earns more than now than he or his teammates would ever earn and it rubbed everyone up the wrong way. Arsenal then went on a training camp where Guendouzi and Arteta fell out over his training and professionalism.
Arteta made the decision there and then that Guendouzi wouldn’t feature regularly anymore and it’s now expected that the 21 year old will leave the club this summer. But why was he so loved anyway?
Arsenal fans weren’t particularly used to a young midfielder showing bravery in tough situations, probably since Cesc Fabregas was at the club. Similarly to when Manchester United signed Ander Herrera, the club weren’t used to having a traditional central midfielder who could do a bit of everything with some quality. As they saw more of Herrera though and the club brought in better midfielders, his flaws became more evident.
Guendouzi isn’t the best passer of the ball, but he’s not bad. He isn’t the most intelligent on the ball, but he’s not stupid. He’s not a goalscoring threat, he doesn’t play killer passes, he’s an okay tackler, he’s positionally okay and he’s a hard worker. Those are not the attributes of a potentially world class footballer.
The fact that he is young has fans, especially on social media, exaggerating performances or good things he does. Manchester United fans do it with Scott McTominay, Chelsea fans do it with Loftus-Cheek – it’s a standard thing in football.
In this instance though, Guendouzi has been found out very early. I have no doubt that he will go on to have a good career in a top league, he is talented. But he isn’t and likely will never be good enough for a top level team, competing for trophies and continental glory.