Following on from some intriguing ties in the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday, we had the first legs of the Europa League Round of 32, and rather than producing a podcast about the games that took place, I thought I would reignite the Binge on our fantastic website to give you all the latest on what happened.
Eight ties kicked off in the early slot and for me the stand out tie was Lazio up against Sevilla. Not only is this because of my love for both Fútbol and Calcio, but also because I could not call how this game was going to go. Both sides have been on a fair slump of late and, rather than a distraction, could likely see the Europa League as a way of saving their respective seasons. The Barbers of Seville came out on top in Rome thanks to a goal from the sometimes underrated Wissam Ben Yedder, a score line which I think will see Los Hispalenses through the tie as I feel Lazio don't have the necessary back bone to deal with a more attacking approach in the second leg.
The biggest shock of the early games came from Belarus, where BATE Borisov clinched a 1-0 win over Unai Emery's Arsenal. On the surface a defeat for Arsenal away in the eastern part of the continent may not seem too surprising given their form for playing a fair amount of fringe players in the past, but Emery started players like Koscielny, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette (now suspended for the return tie after a late ordering off) plus players like Aubameyang would come off the bench to try and rescue the game. I don't think BATE (who had ex Gooner Aleksandar Hleb in their side) will be able to produce a result at the Emirates that will see them progress, but a result like this should tell us that, although improvement is there to be seen since Wenger left, this Arsenal side are not ready to challenge either in Europe or domestically.
Nothing major stood out for me in regard to the late kick offs, although Club Brugge getting a 2-1 victory at home against 100% record in the group stage Red Bull Salzburg sets up a really fun second leg in Austria. Brazilian striker Wesley got the winning goal in the tie, based on what I saw from him in the Champions League, he for me is one to keep an eye on. Eintracht Frankfurt getting a 2-2 draw away versus Shakhtar Donetsk is a further sign of this great Shakhtar side reaching the end of its cycle, although saying that they are seven points clear in the title race in the Ukraine so we probably haven't seen the last of them just yet.
Other results on the night saw Inter (minus the now ex captain Icardi) beat Rapid Vienna 1-0 (never forget that could have been us!), a magnificent 3-3 draw between Rennes and Real Betis (two open styles against each other, we should have seen it coming), Benfica getting a respectable 2-1 win away against Galatasaray, following on from their 10-0 win in Liga Nos at the weekend (that's right, TEN!), Villarreal getting a 1-0 victory away over Sporting Lisbon, Chelsea doing the business in Sweden beating Malmo 2-1, Napoli looking comfortable in their 3-1 win at the home of FC Zurich, Plzen beating Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 at home, Olympiacos and Dynamo Kyiv playing out a 2-2 draw in Greece, and bore draws between Slavia Prague & Genk and Krasnodar and Bayer Leverkusen. Oh, and my Spanish team proving that the unwashed side of Glasgow are indeed afraid of "big black bats". Walked right into that one Timmy, well done.
Shouldn't forget as well that Fenerbahce hosted Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday evening, and got a surprising 1-0 victory considering their domestic form, but I would have confidence that Zenit, as they did last season, will destroy the tie in their own back yard.
If you listen to the European Hangover podcasts, first of all thank you, and secondly you will know that I like to let people know what games are being played in Europe that will be shown on various channels and streaming services for the upcoming weekend. What I would like to do here is point you in the direction of any games that I feel you should certainly try to watch this weekend and why.
On the Saturday evening at 19:30 on Premier Sports 2, Atalanta host AC Milan in the Serie A. The form of Atalanta of late has been a joy to behold, Duvan Zapata is scoring goals for fun, and many pundits are tipping them to make the top 4 and win the Coppa Italia, and that's not far fetched in my opinion. Standing in their way are a Milan side who have been rejuvenated by some smart acquisitions in January, Piatek and Paqueta to be precise, and many can see Gattuso's men achieving the results that Atalanta are now striving for. Does this game decide who will qualify for the Champions League, probably not, but as the two teams were kept apart in the semi final draw, at could be a dress rehearsal for the cup final, and what a final that would be.
On Sunday at 14:00 on BT Sport ESPN, Lille host Montpellier in Ligue 1. Those who don't follow French football may not understand why this would be my pick for Sunday, but the story of Lille is quite remarkable. Last season they were in a deep relegation battle thanks to a woeful stint from now Leeds United gaffer Marcelo Bielsa, and only escaped dropping out of the top tier in the closing stages of the season. Even then however, the club were still under threat of being kicked out of the Ligue due to financial issues. However, the side situated on the border with Belgium are now performing a whole lot better and are clear second (obviously miles behind PSG) and look highly likely to qualify for the Champions League. They have good young talent in their ranks, in particular a Portuguese forward called Rafael Leao, who has been described as the best talent to come through the ranks of Sporting Lisbon since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo...not much pressure for the 19 year old then! So I would say give that a watch, also for the fact that Montpellier are 5th so it will be a competitive tie.
James Forrest (@No_Not_That_1)