UEFA’s technical observers have collected their key findings from the UEFA Europa League season – including veterans impressing and a propensity for long balls – ahead of the full report.
Jesús Navas at the age of 37, Ivan Rakitić at the age of 35, Chris Smalling at the age of 33 and Nemanja Matić, 34: they were all part of the UEFA Europa League team of the season, as they are vital were in their respective teams’ progress to the Budapest final.
There were other highlights for veteran players too, most notably Ángel Di María, 35, who scored a stunning hat-trick for Juventus as they beat Nantes 3-0 in the knockout round play-off second leg. All of these veterans would accept that they are no longer at their peak, but they were crucial to their squad and almost always there, trusted by their coaches to lead the biggest games.
The technical observers noted that the modern narrative is that goalkeepers who like to play with the ball at their feet have gained favor, which was especially the case in this season’s Champions League. However, this was not the case in this season’s Europa League, just as it was not the case last season when Eintracht Frankfurt’s Kevin Trapp was so important.
The observers picked out Yassine Bounou’s long kicks for Sevilla, plus Wojciech Szczęsny for Juventus and David de Gea for Manchester United.
- 381 goals were scored in this season’s competition – an average of 2.7 per game
- 66.5% saw Ajax come to the top of the average possession ranking
- 165 was the total that Nemanja Matić gained more possession than any other player (127 recoveries, 22 interceptions, 16 tackles)
Manchester United finished only second in Group E, despite accumulating 15 points by winning five of their six games. The problem was that Real Sociedad also won five of the six, doing what none of the other 13 teams that visited Old Trafford could do in all cup competitions last season: victory.
To complete the symmetry, their only defeat was at home to United on matchday 6. That game proved remarkable when Cristiano Ronaldo, in his last European game for United, set up Alejandro Garnacho for his debut goal in European competition. It was only the second goal Real Sociedad conceded in all six group games – better than United’s three goals conceded to eventually push the England side into second place.
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