Following Aston Villa’s disappointing elimination in the first round of the newly created Europa League, there are only three British teams currently still in the competition. Ever since Liverpool’s dramatic 5-4 victory over Alaves in the 2001 UEFA Cup final, teams competing in the English and Scottish Premier League have found progressing beyond the initial knock out stages a tough task.
With the Group Stages at the half way mark, can Fulham, Everton and Celtic advance and progress into the latter stages of the competition?
Since Gordan Strachan’s resignation as Celtic manager, the Bhoys European form has been nothing short of terrible. The fortress that was Celtic Park has not held any fear for teams this season as Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal beat them there in Champions League qualifier before a draw against minnows Rapid Wien and a defeat against Hamburg. Tony Mowbray’s side are rooted to the bottom of their four team group with one point after three games. Considering their dreadful away record in Europe, trips to Hamburg and Rapid Wien look daunting whilst a home win against Hapoel Tel Aviv is a must if progression if to occur.
The main problem with Celtic in recent months seems to be largely down to the manager. Mowbray’s style of playing beautiful free flowing football doesn’t work with a team that are derift of genuine quality. Over the years, Strachen and Martin O’Neil made Celtic a competitive and hard working team that even unsettled Europe’s elite. Mowbray’s tactics put pass and move above ball retention which allows the opposition to settle and gain a foothold into the match. Personally, I think Celtic are going out of the group stage.
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Considering Everton’s below par start to the season and their dreadful injury problems, six points from a possible nine represents a good start in this Europa League group. On paper, it is certainly one of the easiest as AEK Athens and BATE Borisov are inexperienced at this level.
However, a disappointing 5-0 defeat away to Benfica has made the group a lot wider open than before. Even so, you’d expect Everton to get stronger as the season progresses due to key players returning from injury. Overall, I’d expect Everton to progress the furthest of the British clubs but how far will be down to the luck of the draw.
With league consolidation as the ultimate priority, any European run is a bonus for Fulham supporters. The team is firmly in contention to qualify from the group. They quite simply have to win their one remaining home match against CSKA Sofia and then battle for points in their two away games.
With their small squad, Fulham may find combining European and League football a tough ask. However, Roy Hodgson is extremely knowledgable of the lesser European leagues due to spells coaching abroad. All in all, Fulham certainly have a chance to qualify. Nevertheless, they may regret the late equaliser they conceded at home to Roma which would have left them four points clear of their Italian counterparts.
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