Man U looks good in EPL, not so much in Europe

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With European competition back on it will be curious to see the impact of the midweek games on league performance.

Manchester United have looked mostly magnificent in the league, even snapping rival and Premier League champions-elect Manchester City last week.

But Thursday they spurned chance after chance and gave up a late away goal to AC Milan in Europa League action. It was a flaccid performance that leaves you wondering if it will have a carry over to their matchup on Sunday against West Ham which will have significant implications on the race for Top Four qualification to the Champions League next season. If you haven’t seen it yet, search for United’s Harry Maguire miss from a yard out, I watched it multiple times and still don’t understand how he didn’t score.

Conversely Liverpool, who have been inexplicably awful in the league in particular losing six in a row at home, convincingly beat RB Leipzig 2-0 (4-0) on aggregate in the Champions League to move into the draw for the quarterfinals. While Liverpool wasted countless top-grade scoring opportunities, moving Fabinho back into midfield had the team looking so much more like the champions they were last season. They face Wolves on Monday and desperately need to win.

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Tottenham face Arsenal in the often-nasty North London derby and Spurs have looked rejuvenated in the league. Their Europa league travails on Thursday will have an impact as  both Arsenal and Spurs  had tough matches. Arsenal are floating in midtable but Spurs need to win this to get back into the Champions League conversation.

Interesting other news from Spurs this week as his former assistant coach and friend claimed PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, who was fired by Tottenham last season, will “100 per cent” return to North London one day. He remains a cult legend at the club and while his team came off the rails quickly, his philosophy and tactics transformed Spurs from middling club to Champions League Finalist.

This week’s matches which can all be streamed on DAZN https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer
FRIDAY: Newcastle United v. Aston Villa
SATURDAY:Leeds United v. Chelsea; Crystal Palace v. West Bromwich Albion; Everton v. Burnley; Fulham v. Manchester City
SUNDAY: Southampton v. Brighton & Hove Albion; Leicester City v. Sheffield United; Arsenal v. Tottenham Hotspur; Manchester United v. West Ham United
MONDAY: Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Liverpool

Serie A

Just like England, the European hangover effect will be real in Italy. AC Milan’s late goal in Manchester should give them a boost in what looks like the biggest game of the week as they host Napoli.

Milan have lost their last two league games which has allowed Inter to open up a six point gap in the league and the title is theirs to lose now. They take on a struggling Torino squad that sit in the relegation zone.

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The real hangover though will belong to  Andrea Pirlo and Juventus. They were knocked out of the Champions League by Porto on away goals after looking like they were going through. Ten points off the top, it looks like Juve’s season is effectively over. Now, a squad that has won nine league titles in a row is allowed to have an off year. But Juve’s fans are desperate to win a Champions League and they expressly brought Cristiano Ronaldo in to finally get over the line.

As one of Europe’s super powers, they’ve only won the Champions League twice and haven’t won one since 1996. Ronaldo’s age and their Cup exit sparked talk this week that he’d be on his way to Paris St. Germain and a bit of a rebuild would take place under Pirlo to bring European glory. Pirlo was defiant this week saying his “project” was always long term and this is just his first step and didn’t expect to win this season.

It will be telling this weekend how the effort of Pirlo’s players is against Cagliari after the disappointment of going out at the first knockout phase. All games are streamed live on DAZN. https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer

FRIDAY: Lazio v. Crotone; Atalanta v. Spezia.
SATURDAY: Sassuolo v. Hellas Verona; Benevento v. Fiorentina; Genoa v. Udinese.
SUNDAY: Bologna v. Sampdoria; Parma v. Roma; Torino v. Inter Milan; Cagliari v. Juventus; AC Milan v. Napoli

La Liga

If European performance is a harbinger of league form, Atletico Madrid should be looking over their shoulder. While they are down 1-0 to Chelsea and play the second leg next week, Barcelona flopped out of the competition on Wednesday, but were universally lauded for playing their best game of the season, drawing PSG 1-1 in Paris. They had too big a hole to climb out of after losing the first leg 4-1 at home, but in particular the play of Lionel Messi had everyone talking about how they looked like the Barcelona of old.

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Barca are still six points back of Atletico in second place, but have won four and drawn one in their last five. They don’t play Atletico until May 9, but if they can claw within three points by that time, this season which was written off as a tire fire may hold some promise after all.

Atletico have a routine match against Getafe this week, who have lost three straight, while Barca face last-placed Huesca on Monday.

FRIDAY: Levante v. Valencia
SATURDAY: Alavés v. Cádiz; Real Madrid v. Elche; Osasuna v. Real Valladolid; Getafe v. Atlético Madrid
SUNDAY: Celta Vigo v. Athletic Bilbao; Granada v. Real Sociedad; Eibar v. Villarreal; Sevilla v. Real Betis
MONDAY: Barcelona v. Huesca

Champions League

We saw Porto, Liverpool, PSG and Dortmund qualify for the quarterfinals last week while Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich all carry leads into their second legs next week. The quarterfinal draw will be March 19.

Manchester City and defending champs Bayern Munich are odds on favourites at this point, but with country protection and seeding gone, they could easily draw each other. Liverpool’s pedigree and return to form this week will worry a few teams, and PSG seem like this could be the year they finally mount a serious challenge after all the money they’ve spent. Everyone will want to draw Porto but it was no easy feat beating Juventus, and Dortmund can’t be ignored with perhaps the hottest goal scorer in Europe with  Erling Haaland scoring for fun in both league and in Champions League. All games for the Champions League are streamed exclusively on DAZN. https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer

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