In an effort to make this as good an article for the readers as possible, I’m going to experiment and keep these stories shorter than I have in the past. Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know whether you prefer the longer or shorter version.
A rematch of the 2020-21 UEFA Europa League Final
Welcome to the most interestingly dull head to head matchup in all of European football: Manchester United vs. Villarreal. These two teams have played five games in total in their entire history. Every single one of them has ended in a draw. Before last year’s final, everyone of them ended 0-0. Two group stage games in the 2005-06 season and two games in the 2008-09 season. All 0-0.
But what might be the most interesting part is what comes after that: in both those seasons, one of those teams made it at least as far as the semifinals. In the 05-06 season, Manchester United came 4th in Group D tied on both goal difference and points with 3rd place side Lille, falling due to goals scored against. Meanwhile, Villarreal won the group by two points over Benfica — in the club’s first ever appearance in the Champions League. In the knockout stages, The Yellow Submarine made all their advancement through away goals — first in the Round of 16 over Rangers and then in the quarterfinals over a stacked Inter Milan team. Eventually in the semifinals, a Kolo Toure goal at Highbury was all Arsenal needed to beat back Villareal and head to the finals where they lost to one of the best Barcelona teams in existence. Villarreal haven’t reached the semifinals ever since.
In the 2008-09 season, it was Manchester United’s turn to reach the semifinals, but not at the detriment of Villarreal. Despite all the 0-0 draws, ManU and Villarreal finished 1st and 2nd in their group respectively. The teams were due to meet in the semifinals if they could both make it there. United were able to shut out Inter Milan and then, after giving up two goals at Old Trafford to Porto in the first leg, a sixth minute, 35-yard strike from Cristiano Ronaldo was all that was needed to advance to the semifinals. They did their job — what about Villarreal? Well, after dispatching Panathinaikos in the Round of 16, they ran into Arsenal yet again. Unlike the 05-06 campaign’s 1-0 bore fest, this round finished 4-1 on aggregate. Following a 1-1 draw at El Madrigal, the return leg at Highbury wasn’t kind to Villarreal yet again — as Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Robin Van Persie put three goals past keeper Diego Lopez to knock out the Yellow Submarine. United went on to the finals where they would lose 2-0 in Rome to Barcelona.
That was all they had between them until the 2021 Europa League final — where after a more exciting 1-1 draw, the two teams went to eleven rounds of penalties. In the end, when it came down to keepers, Geronimo Rulli scored and David de Gea didn’t — giving Villarreal its first ever major trophy (unless you count their two Intertoto Cups, which I don’t).
Super League clubs aren’t being prosecuted further
This story was specifically saved for today — when two of the clubs still in the European Super League are set to play in the group stages. Before I get to the analysis of UEFA’s decision not to go after these clubs, let’s talk a little about the matches Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus face. While one of the masterminds of this horror project fell to a team from a nation that isn’t even internationally recognized yesterday, the other two teams face interesting matchups. We’ll talk about Chelsea v. Juve in greater detail later, but Benfica vs. Barcelona is a juicy little fixture with some history attached to it.
The first time Benfica and Barcelona met was the 1961 European Cup final in Bern where Benfica won 3-2 thanks in part to an own goal from Barcelona goalkeeper Antoni Ramallets. Fun fact about that game: it took place on May 31, 1961 and the following day, the team had to play in the third round of the national cup competition - the Taça de Portugal. While controversial — in that it wasn’t rescheduled after the first team played in a major cup final — it forced the team to go to their reserves and despite their best efforts, they fell 4-1. The lone goalscorer in that game was a 19 year old making his debut for Benfica who went by the name of Eusébio. Benfica’s win in the 1961 European Cup spawned two more cup finals in the following two years with one ending up a 5-3 win over a Real Madrid side featuring Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas and the other a 2-1 loss to an AC Milan side featuring Cesare Maldini (father of Paolo) and Giovanni Trapattoni. Benfica hasn’t won a game against Barcelona since that cup final victory — getting knocked out of the competition at their hands in the 1991-92, 2005-06 and 2012-13 seasons.
Now, let’s get to the decision from UEFA. It follows a Madrid court ruling that states UEFA couldn’t take disciplinary action against the clubs. For a better reading on this, our residential lawyer RLD did a great write-up on the decision, it’s legality, and how it would hold up elsewhere. Now, I’m no lawyer, and the only interactions with the law I’ve had were from watching A Few Good Men one too many times with my father and basic communications law classes that I was required to take in journalism school. But the fact that UEFA decided to basically submit to an “ex parte” decision [from RLD’s article: meaning without notice to the other side (i.e. UEFA). This means that the judge, in a Madrid court, heard only from the ESL’s lawyer and read only materials filed by the ESL] without putting up any fight of their own in another court is confusing and cowardly. If there are avenues to punishing the clubs — and the above article suggests there may be — I have no clue why UEFA, with their seemingly infinite resources, wouldn’t go after them. After all, it was UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who said, “we expect everyone to realise (Real, Juve and Barca’s) mistake and suffer the appropriate consequences.”
All I have to say is this: If you fail to pursue all possible avenues, then you fail to teach that lesson. If you fail to properly punish the clubs, this threat of a European Super League will never go away. And if you fail to follow up on your threats — like so called “appropriate consequences” — then you stand as strong as a cardboard box in a hurricane. UEFA seems to be choosing to not do better and it’s just yet another in a laundry list of reasons why they’ve failed fans of football.
Chelsea meet Juventus for the fifth time in competitive history
Juventus vs. Chelsea seems like one of those matches between two big clubs that has to have been played a number of times before — maybe not on quite a level as Bayern-Real or Man United - Barcelona, but still enough times that it would leave a significant mark on the competition. It may surprise you (or, at least it surprised me) that these teams have only met four times beforehand - once in the Group Stages, once in the Round of 16. The record is about as even as you can get: 1-2-1.
Their first meeting came in that Round of 16 of the 2008/09 season. At Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba scored in the 12’ and that was all that came of the first meeting of Chelsea and Juventus. The second leg at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico was a much more exciting, back and forth affair. Vincenzo Iaquinta put the first goal in the net in the 19’ and just as the half was set to end Michael Essien scored off a free kick from the top of the box. Juventus got awarded a penalty after right back Juliano Beletti stuck both hands up during a free kick and blocked the ball while in the box. Alessandro Del Piero converted easily and for a moment, Juventus seemed to be moving on. Then, in the 83’, Didier Drogba — the master of heart destroying late goals — tapped in a low cross to move on to the next round. They made it all the way to the semifinals where their infamous matchup with Barcelona knocked them out of the tournament.
The next time the teams met, Juventus were the more dominant side. Sure, their first leg at the Bridge didn’t become a draw until a Fabio Quagliarella goal in the 80’ but Juve seemed the better team during that game. They solidified that in Turin where Quagliarella, Arturo Vidal, and Sebastian Giovinco put three goals past Petr Cech to help them eventually clinch top of the group. Chelsea — the defending Champions League title holders — were knocked down to the Europa League, which they would eventually win over Benfica at the Amsterdam Arena. Meanwhile, Juventus won their Round of 16 matchup 5-0 on aggregate over Celtic — only to lose in the quarterfinals 4-0 on aggregate to eventual champions Bayern Munich.
Bayern Munich look to start a new home winning streak
Die Roten had won eight games in a row before being knocked out thanks in part to a loss on home turf to Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals last season. While Bayern would go on to win the next fixture in Paris 1-0, it was that 3-2 loss at home that sank them. Before then, it was a streak that might have to carry an asterisk next to it. Running through each fixture as a part of the eight match win streak at the Allianz Arena, we find:
- 2-1 win over Lazio in the 2021 Round of 16
- 2-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow in 2020-21 Group Stage
- 3-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg in 2020-21 Group Stage
- 4-0 win over Atletico Madrid in 2020-21 Group Stage
- 4-1 win over Chelsea in 2019-20 Round of 16
- 3-1 win over Tottenham in 2019-20 Group Stage
- 2-0 win over Olympiacos in 2019-20 Group Stage
- 3-0 win over Red Star in 2019-20 Group Stage
And that’s the streak, stopped by the previous game played in the Champions League in Munich: a 3-1 loss in the 2018-19 Round of 16 to eventual champions Liverpool.
Now, I put the asterisks in for what seems to be a reasonable purpose. While an 8-2 win over Barcelona looks like an aggregate score and Bayern seemed perfectly capable of handling Olympique Lyon in the semifinals, those were all single legged affairs. Now while a 10 game winning streak is nothing to sneeze at, it would only be tied for 5th with the Juventus teams that won 10 straight from March 20th of 1996 to December 10th of 1997.
No the real task for this Bayern Munich team would be matching the home winning streak of 16 games in a row which is held by none other than...Bayern Munich. Yes, Bayern were able to pip Barcelona to the title of longest home winning streak in the UCL by winning all the games at home sandwiched in between a 4-0 loss to Real Madrid in the semifinals of the 2013-14 season and a 2-1 loss to Real again in the 2017 quarterfinals.
For those curious, the longest home undefeated streak is held by Barcelona who went unbeaten in 37 home UCL games before falling 3-0 to Juventus in the 2020-21 season.
Here are all of Wednesday’s matches (all times Eastern U.S.):
- Atalanta BC v. BSC Young Boys (Stadio di Bergamo - Bergamo, Lombardy, ITA)
- FC Zenit Saint Petersburg v. Malmö FF (Krestovsky Stadium - St. Petersburg, RUS)
- FC Bayern München v. Dynamo Kiev (Fußball Arena München - Munich, Bavaria, DEU)
- SL Benfica v. FC Barcelona (Estádio da Luz - Lisbon, PRT)
- FC Salzburg v. LOSC Lille (Stadion Salzburg - Wals-Siezenheim, AUT)
- Juventus FC v. Chelsea FC (Juventus Stadium - Turin, Piedmont, ITA)
- Manchester United FC v. Villarreal CF (Old Trafford - Manchester, GBR)
- VfL Wolfsburg v. Sevilla FC (VfL Wolfsburg Arena - Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, DEU)