European Football Returns

The top European club football competitions, the Europa League and the Champions League restart this week after football leagues across the continent finished up. Fans are looking forward to wall-to-wall action as the tournaments are played out in a new compact format that will see stages that are typically played out across several months completed in just a matter of weeks.

An empty Olympic football stadium.

Empty football stadia have come commonplace since the restart of football and European games will be no different, as all will be played behind closed doors. ©3093594/Pixabay

After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 on the continent, all football events were canceled or postponed (with the exception of the Belarussian Premier League), including these elite European championships. It has been five months since the last game was played in either the Europa League or the Champions League and the virus has prompted new rules to be set out by the organizers.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, has circulated its new guidance for the 28 clubs participating in the tournaments. This is designed to mitigate the risk of transmission of the virus, which will enable the smooth running of the competitions to hopefully avoid calling off any games.

This guidance sets out the expectations of UEFA about hygiene and testing of players and staff. As such, the governing body has advised that players and staff should maintain exceptionally high standards of hygiene both at stadiums and training sessions, but also in their private lives.

The organization has warned that should individuals not rigidly adhere to these hygiene standards, it could result in problems with staging international games. Not only does this mean Europa League and Champions League games could be affected but so could the Nations League.

This relatively new international tournament is due to kick off after the culmination of the European club competitions in September. UEFA has warned that the start of this could be jeopardized should players and staff not follow the guidance it has just released, however.

The guidance set out by the organization has been written under the supervision of the chairman of UEFA’s medical committee, Tim Meyer. Meyer was also the individual who took the lead in creating protocols for the Bundesliga, which was the first of the top European leagues to return after its hiatus caused by the pandemic.

The rules rely heavily on rigorous testing of players and support staff. Testing will be performed a couple of days before clubs depart from their home nations to the venues for the last stages of each competition. Additionally, players will be tested before each game is played once they have arrived in either Portugal (for the Champions League) or Germany (for the Europa League).

Players have also been advised to wear face masks at all times when out in public and a special emphasis was placed on wearing the protective equipment when traveling via bus and airplane. On top of this, it has been reiterated by the organizing body that players should not swap shirts with one another after games have finished.

There will also be restrictions placed on the accommodation and eating arrangements of clubs participating in the competitions. For example, UEFA has requested that clubs have private dining areas in their hotels that are accessible without having to go through a public area beforehand.

Europa League

The Europa League resumed its knock-out stages on Wednesday the 5th of August. The games being played currently are the second legs of the last 16 ties that are still to be decided. Some of the bigger clubs in the tournament, Manchester United and Inter Milan have both secured their progression to the quarter-finals of the tournament after playing on Wednesday.

Manchester United is the favorite club to win the trophy amongst bookmakers. The club has experienced a superb run of form since football restarted and has managed to secure Champions League football after breaking into the top four of the Premier League; a feat many thought beyond them earlier in the season.

The side secured its place in the quarter-finals after a dominant two legs against the Austrian side LASK. United swept both legs to win 7-1 on aggregate, which was no surprise to bookmakers, fans and pundits alike.

United have been the top scorers in the Europa League, having netted 23 times in the tournament from 154 shots, 55 of which were on target. All competition-leading stats and highlight the attacking prowess of the club, which is one of the largest in the world. Most of these stats came before the brilliant run of form the club showed after the restart, which makes the team one to be feared in the Europa League now.

Despite its size, Manchester United has had a tumultuous time after the departure of its long-term and legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. The team was one of the most dominant in world football, and broke many records during its hay-day.

Fans are hopeful that the acquisition of players like Bruno Fernandes, a talismanic attacking midfielder, and stand-out displays from young players like the 18-year-old Mason Greenwood will help propel the club to European triumph.

Other sides that will be looking to win the trophy include Inter Milan, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sevilla, and Bayer Leverkusen. All of these sides stand a good chance of reaching the final and once there, it could easily become anyone’s game.

Champions League

UEFA’s flagship club competition, the Champions League is set to return on Friday, after a five-month hiatus. The competition boasts the crème de la crème of European football and will undoubtedly be a thrilling spectacle to watch.

The competition will be without the reigning champions and Premier League winners Liverpool F.C. after it was knocked out by Atletico Madrid in a frustrating two-legged tie. This may have been a blessing in disguise, as the reduced schedule in the absence of European football may have contributed to the team’s dominant display in the domestic league.

The favorite team to win the competition in Manchester City, who top the bookies’ list of likely champions. The team is desperate for European success having won nearly every other honor during the immensely successful tenure of Pep Guardiola at the club. The team plays Real Madrid on Friday, but are winning 2-1 on aggregate after defeating the giant of European Football away from home in the first leg.

Bayern Munich is more-or-less tied with Manchester City in the eyes of bookmakers. The team is looking for its sixth champions league title and also looks in very good shape to progress to the quarter-finals after a dominant display against Chelsea in the first leg of the round of 16. The team is winning 3-0 on aggregate so it will be a massive upset if it does not progress further.

The team has won the Bundesliga in each of the previous seven seasons and has also progressed to the semi-finals or beyond of the Champions League in five of these seven years. Munich also thrillingly dispatched of last year’s finalists, Tottenham Hotspur 7-2 on aggregate earlier in the season.

The third most likely team to progress in the eyes of the bookies is PSG, the giants of French football. The team is looking to prove that it can perform on the biggest stage after a spell of complete and unwavering dominance in domestic leagues and tournaments. It remains to be seen if the club can do it in Europe, however, as it has failed to ever get past the quarter-finals of the competition.

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