Two days after Europe’s premier competition commenced for the 2013/14 season, the less fancied Europa League followed suit. Last season, Chelsea won the competition but the team’s top four finish in the premier league meant they qualified for the champions league this season and won’t defend their title but that could change if they are amongst the eight third placed team at the end of the group stage, as we all saw last season. If not, a new winner will emerge in Europe’s second tier competition.
Since the rebranding of the competition, English and Spanish representatives have posed the biggest threats to other European clubs and when Swansea were drawn to play its maiden continental campaign away at the Mestalla, tongues got wagging at the prospect of a very entertaining game. Apart from that, football lovers wanted to see how teams like Tottenham, Fiorentina, Wigan and a new and youthful PSV side would start off the new campaign.
Swansea was undoubtedly the biggest winners of match-day 1. You don’t announce your presence on this stage any better. A 3-0 win away at Valencia is no mean feat for a club of Swansea’s standards and that will surely inspire the Welsh team to aspire for greater heights in the competition. Fellow British challengers; Tottenham and Wigan Athletic also posted good results as a home win for Spurs over Tromso; highpoint was Defoe grabbing a brace and Wigan going off to Zulte Waregem to snatch a draw is something commendable but was expected as well.
However, there were mixed results for Spanish teams with Valencia topping the list though, not for positivity. An embarrassing loss to Swansea at home encompasses how the fortunes of the former Spanish champions have declined in recent years and will find it difficult to progress from group A, if drastic measures to prevent performances like last night’s are not made. More so, their task has been made slightly difficult with the suspension of defender Adil Rami, who picked up a red card against Swanse. Elsewhere, Sevilla picked up maximum points away to Estoril Praia while Real Betis played out a goalless draw with Lyon.
Italian sides were not left out of the equation and the two representatives from the land of the Azurri, Fiorentina and Lazio both picked maximum points and also looked impressive. It’s clearly evident that Italian football isn’t where it used to be but in Fiorentina and Lazio, they have teams that could really push the favourites all the way and with easy groups to navigate and favourable draws in the first and second knock-out rounds then, they can go “maybe’’ all the way.
Other traditional European sides like PSV, Bordeaux, Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Haifa had disappointing nights and would need to turn around this with must wins on match-day two or we might be seeing them fail to progress from the group stage.
Written by Ivan Dougan