Champions League and Europa League return: Where is it happening and how will it work?

By Sports Desk August 04, 2020

Five months after the Champions League and Europa League were halted, the continent's creme de la creme are ready to finish what they started.

Atletico Madrid's dramatic extra-time win at Anfield seems an age ago, as does Manchester United's 5-0 thrashing of LASK, with those results two of the final matches to occur before the coronavirus pandemic suspended the season.

Now, with those domestic leagues and cup competitions that did return having finished, the focus is solely on Europe's elite.

The Europa League resumes on Wednesday, with the Champions League coming back on Friday - both competitions reaching a conclusion this month with mini tournaments taking place in different countries.

Here, we detail the who, what, why, where and when.

 

PREVIOUSLY ON... THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND EUROPA LEAGUE

Both the Europa League and the Champions League are at the last-16 stage, but while all 16 teams remain in the Europa League, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and Tottenham are all out of Europe's premier club competition.

Their conquerors - Atletico, Paris Saint-Germain, Atalanta and RB Leipzig - all won across two legs prior to pause being pressed on the campaign.

Only six of the eight first legs in the Europa League happened, with four away teams - United, Bayer Leverkusen, Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel claiming advantages, while Istanbul Basaksehir beat Copenhagen 1-0 in Turkey and Wolves drew 1-1 at Olympiacos.

With Spain and Italy being two of the countries initially hardest hit by the pandemic, Sevilla's tie with Roma and Inter's fixture against Getafe could not begin. 

 

SO HOW WILL THIS ROUND CONCLUDE?

Let's deal with the Champions League first.

PSG and Atalanta can put their feet up knowing their quarter-final begins on August 12, the day before Leipzig face Atletico Madrid.

Four last-16 ties remain and the quartet of home teams in the second leg - Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich - will respectively host Real Madrid, Lyon, Napoli and Chelsea in their own stadiums without fans present.

That is also the case in the Europa League, though Sevilla's clash with Roma, and Inter's encounter with Getafe will now be one-off fixtures at neutral venues in Germany.

 

AND FROM THE QUARTER-FINALS ONWARDS?

Due to the need to get this thing wrapped up quickly before the 2020-21 season begins, both the Champions League and Europa League have done away with two-legged affairs for the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Instead every last-eight and last-four match will be decided across 90 minutes - or 120 minutes, or a penalty shoot-out should they be required.

And with the pandemic still a very real threat, the two competitions will be concluded in one city to minimise travel and reduce the risk of spreading COVID within the squads.

Benfica's Estadio da Luz will be the venue for the Champions League quarter-finals, semi-finals and final between August 12 and 23, while those comparative stages in the Europa League, taking place between August 10 and 21, will be staged in Cologne.

 

WILL ALL THE PLAYERS STILL BE INVOLVED?

This stage of the football calendar is typically transfer time and even a global pandemic could not stop that.

So Leipzig's Timo Werner, who scored four times for the Bundesliga club in their run to the last eight, is now on Chelsea's books while winger Leroy Sane has swapped Manchester City for Bayern Munich. Neither man will be able to play for either their new team or their old.

Those like Achraf Hakimi, a recent Inter signing from Dortmund, will also be reduced to a watching brief.

It is a different case for Hakimi's new team-mate Alexis Sanchez, who has been included in Antonio Conte's squad for the latter stages after terms were reached on a loan extension with Manchester United - though a new arrangement will need to be made for him to be available from the quarter-finals onwards.

Sanchez's parent club were not willing to let Roma have loanee Chris Smalling any longer, though, the English centre-back having bade farewell to the Eternal City on Tuesday ahead of his return to United, for whom he cannot feature either given his prior involvement with the Giallorossi.

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    The World Cup winner has been heavily linked with Zinedine Zidane's Madrid previously, while Jurgen Klopp's Premier League champions have also reportedly been interested in the past.

    The report says Liverpool and Madrid are in regular contact with Mbappe.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Luis Suarez is set for a Barcelona exit, but the forward's next club remains unclear. Sport reports Suarez has an agreement with Atletico Madrid, apparently for two seasons, but Barca are said to be intending to block him joining a direct rival for free.

    - Manchester United could strengthen as soon as this week. The Guardian reports Porto left-back Alex Telles hopes to seal a move to United this week and it says the Premier League club are hoping to get the 27-year-old's price down to £23mllion (€25m).

    - With Kepa Arrizabalaga again coming under fire, Chelsea are set to welcome a new goalkeeper. RMC Sport reports the Premier League club have finalised a deal worth £22million (€24m), plus £5.5m (€6m) in bonuses, with Rennes for Edouard Mendy.

    - Staying at Chelsea and N'Golo Kante is reportedly wanted by Inter. Corriere dello Sport reports Inter coach Antonio Conte wants the midfielder, but a €50million (£45.9m) asking price is unthinkable for the Serie A club unless Christian Eriksen or Marcelo Brozovic are sold.

    - There could also be movement at Real Madrid. EFE reports Luka Jovic is pushing for a return to Eintracht Frankfurt on loan after struggling in his first season with the LaLiga giants. Meanwhile, Marca says former Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani has been offered to Madrid.

    - While Suarez may arrive, Atletico Madrid are also considering their transfer options. AS reports they are waiting for offers for Diego Costa, while Marca says the LaLiga club need to see a player leave before potentially signing Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira.

  • Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes Five years on: The story behind Robert Lewandowski's five goals in nine minutes

    Robert Lewandowski famously scored five goals in just nine minutes for Bayern Munich against Wolfsburg five years ago today.

    The Poland international achieved the astonishing feat on September 22, 2015 in a match that ultimately finished 5-1 to Bayern.

    A half-time substitute, Lewandowski's heroics ensured Bayern came from behind to thrash Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.

    Here, we look at the story behind one of the finest moments of Lewandowski's career.

    WHAT HAPPENED

    Then a 27-year-old, Lewandowski was introduced at half-time and fired in a four-minute hat-trick before adding two more in a breathless spell from Bayern.

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    THE FIVE GOALS

    With things not looking good, Guardiola threw on Lewandowski and the change paid dividends almost immediately, with his first arriving on 51 minutes. 

    Thomas Muller was denied by goalkeeper Diego Benaglio after a fine team move involving Mario Gotze and Arturo Vidal, but Lewandowski was on hand to poke the ball home on the rebound.

    The Poland striker put Bayern in front just a minute later, lashing the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

    He then sealed a stunning four-minute hat-trick - the fastest in Bundesliga history - as he prodded in after initially hitting the post after being set up by Muller.

    Wolfsburg were completely rattled and Lewandowski helped himself to a fourth in the 57th minute as he turned in Douglas Costa's cross with a crisp strike.

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    IT COULD HAVE BEEN SEVEN

    A combination of Benaglio and Ricardo Rodriguez on the goal-line only just stopped Lewandowski from scoring again in the closing stages.

    There was another chance too - former Bayern defender Dante blocked another Lewandowski effort inside the area as the champions cruised to victory.

    The win put Bayern three points clear at the top of the table and they went on to win the title by a margin of 10 to nearest challengers Dortmund.

    After the match, Bayern defender Philipp Lahm said Lewandowski could, and perhaps should, have added to his total after the initial five-goal heroics.

    Lahm said: "At half-time a player came in who did a little something. It was incredible. Just madness. And he had two more chances, so he should have gone home with seven goals."

    WHAT HE SAID

    Immediately following the match, Lewandowski admitted it was an "incredible" feeling to score five goals in just nine second-half minutes and did not realise at the time how quickly his goals had come.

    "I am very satisfied, that was incredible," he said. "I just wanted to shoot, I didn't really think what will happen afterwards.

    "Having been one down, we knew that we must improve and score twice at least. But five goals, that's incredible.

    "I don't know how fast it was, but it was fast. But when you're on the pitch, you're just focused on football. I looked at the scoreboard, it was the 60th minute and I only thought: 'Ooh.'

    "Guardiola didn't need to say anything, I know what I have to do on the pitch."

    Lewandowski was asked to compare the game to Dortmund's 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals, in which he scored four.

    "It was a very important game - that was a very big event in my life," he said. "Now five goals, that is a great night for me."

    Reflecting on his performance the morning after, Lewandowski thanked fans on Instagram and apologised for not making himself available for requested media appearances due to Bayern's busy schedule.

    Lewandowski described it as "an amazing evening for me", alongside a picture of himself with the signed match ball.

    He insisted he was most glad to have helped the team and acknowledged messages of congratulations he had received from all over the world. 

    WHAT THEY SAID

    Speaking to reporters after the match, team-mate Jerome Boateng called Lewandowski one of the world's best strikers and was grateful he only had to compete with him in training.

    Guardiola, meanwhile, who had been visibly baffled on the touchline, was left in disbelief, saying: "I've never experienced such a situation, either as coach or as a player.

    "Five goals in nine minutes. I am very happy for Robert. You play poorly for 45 minutes and then grab five goals in nine minutes. I cannot explain it."

    Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking was less thrilled but fared no better in attempting to explain Lewandowski's showing. 

    He said: "What can I say? A world-class striker shot five times on goal and could have scored seven. That is how it happened.

    "But with our quality this should not happen. We had a good first half and Bayern could not up the pace of the game and then came these nine minutes. It's inexplicable."

    Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold could only rue the defensive collapse from his side, adding: "We can't explain that, five goals in nine minutes. There is no reason to talk about it, it's just s***."

    Lewandowski's agent Cezary Kucharski was thrilled with the impact the feat had on his client's market value, but all but ruled out a move to one of the Manchester clubs amid a flurry of increased transfer talk after the match.

    "Games like the one against Wolfsburg immensely help a player increase his value," he said. "I have a plan for the rest of Robert's career in my head.

    "Could that plan take him to Manchester? It's always raining over there. Munich is much more beautiful and a better place to live."

    Kucharski suggested a move to Spain would be more appealing, but as we know he ultimately remained at Bayern, signing a lucrative new contract in December 2017.

    That deal was extended with fresh terms in August 2019, tying him to the club until 2023.

    THE BEST OPTA STATS

    Since the start of the 2015-16 season - when Lewandowski's five-goal performance took place - there is only one player who has scored more goals than him in Europe's top-five leagues: Lionel Messi.

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    How does Lewandowski's feat compare to other similar achievements?

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    - No LaLiga player has scored five since 1960. Laszlo Kubala has the Spanish top-flight's record for the fastest five-goal streak at 19 minutes, as part of seven he scored in a 1952 match for Barcelona against Sporting Gijon.

    - In Ligue 1, there has only been one occasion since 1984, which was Carlos Eduardo's quintet for Nice against Guingamp in October 2014. The French top-flight record for fastest five goals is held by Carlos Bianchi at 31 minutes, scored for Reims against Paris Saint-Germain in 1974.

    - Lewandowski's nine minutes is the fastest in Germany and across the top-five leagues, though Luka Jovic emulated his haul three years later for Eintracht Frankfurt against Dusseldorf in October 2018.

    - Those two feats were the only occasions of a player scoring five or more in the Bundesliga since 1991. The great Gerd Muller did it four times between 1972 and 1976.

  • Ibrahimovic shows he's a champion when Milan are at their best – Pioli Ibrahimovic shows he's a champion when Milan are at their best – Pioli

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    "The team has confidence, he knows how to play even in difficulties. He knows how to sacrifice himself.

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    Milan battled to a sixth-place finish in Serie A last season and are preparing to face Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday.

    Pioli hopes his team can improve on that finish, saying: "We have to be ambitious.

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