October 25, 2012
After the disappointing performances in the Champions League earlier in the week, attention on Thursday turned to the Europa League and the three English clubs remaining in the competition. In the first two rounds, the teams had varying levels of success but all were still in with a good chance of progress to the knock-out rounds of the competition.
With two high-scoring games behind them, Liverpool were in third place in Group A with three points before their first game against Anshi Makhachkala from Russia. The Russian side has invested heavily in players and includes ex-Premier League stars Samuel Eto’o, who is now one of the highest paid soccer players in the world, and Chris Samba.
A strong Liverpool side took to the field needing a win to improve their chances of progressing and dominated the early exchanges. Several players missed chances to take the lead in a goalless first half. Shortly after the interval, a shot from left back Stuart Downing beat Vladimir Gabulov to give Liverpool a deserved 1-0 lead. Shortly afterwards, Daniel Agger looked to extend the home sides lead with a header, but the goal was disallowed.
Liverpool held on to take their first home victory in the group stages of the competition and leapfrog to the top of the group. With two difficult away games to come in Russia and Italy, qualification is not a guarantee but they are in a good position to progress.
After two games, Newcastle were sitting pretty at the top of Group D with four points from the first two games. Their opponents in the third game were Club Bruges from Belgium, who currently sit on top of that country’s football league.
Starting strongly, Newcastle retained possession well in the first half but the visitors twice threatened on the break. Two good attempts on goal from Pappiss Cisse were well saved by the visiting goalkeeper to keep the scores level at half-time. Just after the restart Newcastle took the lead through Gabriel Obertan who fired an unstoppable shot into the net. Further efforts from both sides were unsuccessful, and the game ended with Newcastle recording a 1-0 victory to cement their position at the top of Group D.
After three games in the group stage, Newcastle are one of only two sides yet to concede a goal and have a great chance to progress to the next round.
Two draws from the first two games left Tottenham struggling in third place, but only one point away from the qualifying spots. A visit to Slovenia to play against Maribor is not the easy game that it would have been just a few years ago but did offer Tottenham a great chance to improve their position. In previous years, a team from Slovenia has only managed a single draw against English clubs.
Spurs started brightly, but Robert Beric gave the home side the lead just three minutes before half time. Even though their passing and movement was much better than the home side, Tottenham only managed to equalize through Gyfli Sigurdsson after an hour. Neither side could score any further goals leaving the teams to settle for a draw.
The result in the other group game was a draw, leaving the overall group position unchanged. Tottenham are not out of the competition yet, but will need to pick up at least one win to stand a chance of progressing.
At the halfway point of the group stage, the English sides all have a good chance of progressing to the knock-out rounds. Only Tottenham are not currently in a qualifying position, but if they can win a game they should be able to progress.