Nov 2, 2017

Woes continue for Everton and Nice as Patrice Evra loses his sh*t: Europa League roundup

Soccer Source takes a rare look into the "second tier" of European football. This is a good way to see how some would-be contenders are being exposed as pretenders and other clubs are rising, potentially knocking on the door of the top tier. Maybe even our top 5? Unlikely for now, but the winner of this competition does qualify for next year's Champions League, so it's definitely worth keeping an eye out.

On the pretender front: Everton FC and OGC Nice are two clubs whose fortunes very much mirrored each other since the start of last season. Both were invigorated by new managers last year: Lucien Favre for Nice and Ronald Koeman for Everton. Both outdid expectations in 2016/17, causing much excitement among supporters. Nice finished third and made it to the Champions League qualification where they fell to Napoli, while Everton finished seventh, which is about as high as could be expected in the top-heavy Premier League. This season has seen a marked decline for both clubs. Everton have already fired Koeman after a disastrous start to the season left them 18th. Favre is hanging on to his job for now, though Nice sit 16th in France's Ligue Un. While Nice did not spend anywhere near as lavishly as Everton in the off-season (just some $30 million, matching their income from player sales), they like Everton added several key players, including Wesley Sneijder (remember him?), who joined from Galatasaray on a free transfer. It's a good thing Sneijder came cheap (or free) because he has yet to do much, starting just four times in all competition, according to data compiled by our friends at Transfermarkt. The most expensive acquisition, Allan Saint-Maximin who joined from Monaco for some $13 million, hasn't played much either.

The two teams' fall from grace was on vivid display in last night's Europa League action. Everton's performance was the more pathetic of the two as the Toffees fell 3-0 to Olympique Lyon. After a decent start Everton were dismantled in the space of 21 minutes. "There was no fight, fight, fight as the goals poured in; they were just weak, weak, weak, allowing Lyon to expose the mental fragility of those who were brought in to kick-start a new era for the club," the Daily Mail reports. With the loss Everton are officially out of European competition. It is a fitting fate for a team that has played so poorly. Blues are now a laughing stock, writes the Liverpool Echo. To make matters worse, defender Cuo Martina was lost to a rather gruesome injury during this game. For a team whose defensive ranks have already been decimated by injuries, this is very bad news indeed. While Everton undoubtedly still have quality in their squad, the question has to be asked if caretaker manager David Unsworth is the man to lead them.

While Everton's European campaign is over, Nice's is very much alive. By the way the club's official name is Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice Côte d'Azur and they're known as the aiglons (Eaglets) or le gym, presumably an homage to their gymnaste roots (thanks, Wikipedia). Anyway, the eaglets (wtf is that, by the way? Like a small eagle?) scored an own goal in stoppage time to give Lazio the victory. But Nice are still second and in the driver's seat to advance to the elimination round. Here's the table of that group:

In their remaining two fixtures, Nice face Zulte Waregem (whoever that is) at home and Vitesse away. Should be do-able even for a club clearly not in their best form.

The contenders
Lazio are the cream of the crop so far, with a perfect record after four games. The Roman side have excelled in Serie A play as well, and currently sit fourth, just three points behind leaders Napoli. While Lazio lost 4-1 in their head-to-head meeting with Napoli in September, they have taken some impressive scalps as well, most notably a 2-1 win at Juventus Turin on Oct. 14. That will certainly get the #top5 ranking committee's attention. At this (admittedly still early) point Lazio should be seen as clear favorites for the Europa League trophy, though of course there will be the third-placed Champions League teams who join the elimination round as well.

Another team emerging as a contender is Zenit St. Petersburg, who dropped their first points yesterday in a 1-1 draw at Rosenborg. Unfortunately Zenit's fans caused negative attention, with reports of racist chants and hooliganism (though hopefully not massacre, as the Google-translated version of the article states).

Zenit lead the group ahead of Real Sociedad. Both clubs have qualified for the elimination round. Zenit are second in the Russian league, three points behind Locomotive Moscow. They beat Sociedad in the first meeting, which Zenit hosted.

Elsewhere Patrice Evra managed the rare feat of being sent off from a match before kickoff. The former Manchester United defender appeared to kick of his club's own supporters in the head. A French Twitter user posted this video. Perhaps inspired by Evra, his Olympique Marseille teammate Boubacar Kamara earned a sending off during the match, five minutes after OM gave up what would be the winning goal to Portuguese side Vitoria. Even with the loss Marseille can control their own destiny in this group:

It's interesting to see a club called FC Salzburg anywhere in European (or even Austrian) football. Salzburg being well-known as the birthplace of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and less known for sport, but closer examination reveals this is just the new name for a certain energy drink-sponsored team.

News from other groups
Group J is an interesting one, with two well known clubs (Athletic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin) and two that probably nobody has ever heard of (Ostersunds FK and FC Zorya Luhansk). Shockingly, it is the lesser-known clubs who head the group. Ostersunds, apparently from Sweden, are first followed by Zorya Luhansk, who by the way sound like a female villain from a James Bond film.

As you can see there is still everything to play for. Bilbao host Hertha and visit the Zorya in the final two matchdays.

Finally, Arsenal are through to the elimination round after a scoreless draw at home to Red Star Belgrade, but you probably knew that already.

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