It’s the morning after the night before – and the Southampton players will certainly be nursing sore heads after that almighty schlepp back from Israel.
But the Europa League isn’t just about glamour away ties, rare sightings of fringe players, and sparsely populated stadiums. There’s much more to enjoy – like Jose Mourinho’s inability to hide his disdain for the competition.
So, if you missed last night’s games, here’s a round up of what happened – the update nobody wanted.
Manchester United took on Zzzorya at Old Trafford. The Europa League is renowned for its shuffled packs, but the United game was so dull that you’d think Jose had been given the night off, and that LVG had been allowed to take charge for one last match.
It was more Bore-ya than Zorya.
Still, Wayne Rooney came off the bench and did what he does best – scuffing a shot horribly into the turf, when it should be easy to hit the target. Mercurially, Rooney’s ineptitude turned catalyst, as Zlatan steered the hopeless shot into the net from close range – an opportunity unmissable by most players’ standards, Rooney excepted perhaps.
Elsewhere in Group A, United’s conquerors from the first round of ties, Feyenoord, were beaten away at Fenerbahce – who had drawn with Zorya last time out. A merry-go-round of results that goes to prove one thing: none of these teams give a s*** about this competition.
Southampton, at least, don’t try to hide it, leaving behind several key men, including their biggest threat for the trip to Israel – assistant boss Eric Black sidelined from the sideline after Telegraph allegations, involving more pints of wine, presumably.
Their 0-0 draw with Hapoel Be’er Sheeva – yep, the same bloke from the Jungle Book – was a poor result. With top seed Inter losing both games so far, there’s now a very real danger of Claude Puel’s men going through. After Sparta beat the Italians 3-1 in the group’s other match, the Saints top their group on goal difference. The idiots.
The result of the night involved another Israeli outfit, Maccabi Tel Aviv, who were thrashed, pummelled, whipped by Ireland’s most glorious football team, Dundalk. And that was before the match kicked off.
Deviant behaviour aside, Dundalk came out 1-0 winners, after spurning a hatful of chances – becoming the first Irish team to win a European group stage game. Next up for the League of Ireland champions is the visit of Zenit St Petersburg, who thrashed AZ Alkmaar 5-0. If Dundalk continue to miss their shots, they’ll be better off challenging their visitors to a game of Russian roulette.
And, as that’s all the British and Irish teams we have in the completion, that concludes my round-up. Wait. What? You don’t really care about the foreign teams do you?
My favourite group is Group F, where the four sides – Genk, Sassuolo, Rapid Vienna, and Athletic Bilbao – have three points apiece. And they’re all quite fun to say. Inter’s savvy exit strategy aside, the shock of the round was in Nice’s 5-2 loss to FK Krasnodar. Not so much the result – the fireworks were provided by the fact that Mario Balotelli continues to score. He was worse than Rooney barely five weeks ago. Now, he appears to be a functioning human being again. Incredible what sea, sun and sanctuary from the press can do for a career.
Odds-wise, United are now 6/1 favourites to win the competition. God I hope not, else I’ll have to write one of these every week.