Last night was a poor one for English clubs in the Europa League quarter-finals.
Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham went into their second legs of the competition all with a chance of making it through to the last four.
Out of the trio, only Chelsea made it to the last four of the competition.
Newcastle and Tottenham exited the competition in very different circumstances.
Chelsea took a comfortable 3-1 lead to Russian side Rubin Kazan and boss Rafa Benitez decided to field a weakened side in the encounter.
The result was a 3-2 defeat at the Luzhniki Stadium. Despite the defeat, the Premier League side still progressed into the semi-final. With game’s coming thick and fast for Chelsea the decision to rest key players could turn out to be a good one by Benitez.
Rafa Benitez has been criticised for his rotation policy at Chelsea at times. However, the Spaniard cannot really win with the Chelsea fans. The sooner the two go their separate ways the better.
It is ironic that no matter how many trophies that Benitez wins this season he still will not be staying at Stamford Bridge come the end of the season. Even if Chelsea wins the FA Cup and Europa League, some Blues fans still would not want Benitez to stay on as boss.
I am not the Spaniard’s biggest fan, but I think for the remainder of the season Blues fans should get behind the team, and put their disliking of Benitez to one side.
Tottenham went out of the competition, drawing 2-2 at Basel, but exiting 4-1 in penalties after extra-time. The damage in this tie happened in the first leg, and I do not just mean the 2 away goals or the 2-2 draw at the Lane.
The bigger damaged was done in stoppage-time, as star player Gareth Bale picked up an injury. Since Bale’s injury, Tottenham have drawn both their games 2-2. Both games Bale could have had a major effect in.
However, in games like last nights I think the absence of the pace of the likes of Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe was also crucial. Lennon may not be the best crosser in the world, but he offers pace and a direct style.
Defoe was not in the best of form prior to his injury, but he still offers a threat, pace and power in attack.
Tottenham have had terrible luck with injuries this season. It is a shame because when everybody is fit and available Spurs have a very good team. Had the likes of Bale, Lennon and Defoe been fit for the second leg then maybe Andre Villas-Boas’ side could have gone on to challenge for the trophy.
Tottenham now have to concentrate on securing a top four place in the Premier League this season. Chelsea moved above Spurs in the league last weekend, after the north London side drew 2-2 with fellow Champions League chasers Everton.
Tottenham’s form tailed off towards the end of last season, and despite finishing fourth in the Premier League Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League because Chelsea won the competition.
Tottenham will be looking to avoid any such slip-ups this season and make it to Europe’s elite competition next season.
Newcastle drew 1-1 with Benfica at St James Park and went out of the competition 4-2 on aggregate. Newcastle took the lead with just under 20 minutes left through a Papiss Cisse goal.
That meant that the Magpies needed just one more goal to progress into the last four. The home side pushed forward, but could not find a way past the stubborn Benfica defence. The visitors equalised on the night in stoppage-time and clinched the tie in the process.
The Europa League was a good adventure for the Toon army this season. However, I think most people connected with Newcastle will accept that staying in the top flight was always more important than the Europa League.
Newcastle was always unlikely to win the competition and now they can concentrate all their attention on maintaining their status in the top flight.
Turkish side Fenerbahce saw off Italians Lazio to complete the semi-final line-up. Chelsea is currently favourites with the bookmakers to win the competition.
However, all three opponents have the quality to give the Blues problems and Rafa Benitez’s side cannot afford to be complacent if they want to claim the trophy in Amsterdam.
Will Chelsea win the Europa League this season?