As we approach March, the intensity of the European fixtures are starting to heat up and there have already been a couple of big clubs eliminated from the Europa League Round of 32.
It was a night to forget for a series of clubs who were all tipped to progress to the next stage of the competition. Unfortunately, their hopes for more European action this season have ended and they will now be focusing on their domestic games.
While most of the matches were played last night, the match between Red Bull Salzburg and Eintracht Frankfurt has been postponed due to a storm warning. The German side are huge favourites to advance as they lead 1-4 on aggregate after the first leg.
On that note, let us take a look at the three surprise exits from the Europa League this season.
Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk played out an exciting 3-3 home draw at the Estádio da Luz in the second leg of their Round of 32 fixture. The Eagles were expected to progress to the Round of 16 of the competition courtesy of their home-field advantage. During the first outing, they lost 2-1 away to the Ukrainian outfit and from that moment, they knew they faced an uphill task to turn the result of the tie in their favour.
Bruno Lage's men took an early lead in the ninth minute after Pizzi put his team in front. However, Ruben Dias scored an own goal to give the visitors a precious away goal. Ultimately, Shakhtar Donetsk's resilience and perseverance made the difference and they were the deserved winners of the two-legged tie.
Despite being considered Portugal's most successful club, Benfica have failed to achieve much success in Europe. They have been competing in the UEFA Champions League for the last decade but they have made no headway in the elite competition. This season in the Europa League is no different as they are repeating the same old story of getting eliminated in the group stage.
Although Ajax overcame Getafe 2-1 at the Johan Cruyff Arena, the former crashed out of the Europa League after losing 2-3 on aggregate on Thursday. The result will certainly be heartbreaking for Erik ten Hag's players because just a season ago, the young team were excelling in the Champions League as they reached the semi-finals of the competition.
This season, the departure of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong has affected the team's performance in Europe. The Dutch club are simply no longer as superior as they were before. In last night's match, Getafe first extended their lead thanks to Jamie Mata before Danilo pulled one back for Ajax. Mathias Olivera then scored an own goal in the second half to give the Eredivisie club some hope.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard Ajax tried to search for those extra goals to see them through to the next stage of the competition, all their efforts came to nought. Given their success last season, many fans would have tipped the Eredivisie team to stay on longer in the Europa League.
Few would have expected Arsenal to exit the Europa League at such an early stage of the competition. After all, they were the semi-finalists of the competition two seasons ago and finalists just last year. In fact, many would have agreed that Mikel Arteta's side had a huge chance to win yesterday's match given that they were yet to lose any game this year.
However, Olympiacos inflicted the Gunners' first defeat of the year and sent them back to reality, proving that work still needs to be done before Arsenal can dream of lifting any trophies.
The London giants returned to England with a valuable away goal after beating Olympiacos 0-1 last week. Following a slow start to the game, Pape Abou Cisse broke the deadlock to level the aggregate score for his side. Although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for the home team, Youssef El-Arabi's goal deep into extra time meant that it was 2-2 on aggregate. With the away goal rule still standing during extra time, Arsenal were out of the competition because Olympiacos had scored two away goals while they only had one.
The Gunners will only have themselves to blame for the lacklustre performance as they become the first Premier League team to be knocked out of European football this season.
Published 28 Feb 2020, 09:32 IST