KAA Gent 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United 3–0 St Etienne
There’s a long held body of thought that playing in the Europa League hampers a side’s chances of success domestically.
With four English clubs qualifying for the all-powerful Champions League, not only do football games in Europe’s second tier often fail to stir the imagination until the latter stages.
But betting odds on a side winning the Europa League, while contesting their own domestic title race, are slim.
After all, you need to play virtually half a Premier League season if you are to triumph in the competition and that can create a damaging backlog.
So should sports betting fans fancy English success in Sweden in late May?
After these first leg results of the last 32 ties, who knows!
Remember, unlike its early years, the Europa League now has an added bonus of the winner qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Certainly, if Manchester United continue to progress on all fronts they could end up playing up to 15 matches more than their main English counterparts.
That didn’t stop Jose Mourinho naming a strong side, however, as St Etienne arrived at Old Trafford.
Likewise, Mauricio Pochettino used what is sometimes seen as a dreaded return of Thursday night football to Spurs to select most of his big-hitters.
They fared in differing fashion.
For Tottenham, after their winter Champions League elimination, this surprise defeat in Gent was more of a stutter than a major setback as they will still be favourites to overcome the Belgians in the second leg at Wembley next week.
Yet it was another frustrating night for Pochettino, five days after their listless Premier League showing at Liverpool.
Harry Kane hit a post and they had their chances but Spurs have still not won in this competition in Belgium, thanks to Jeremy Perbet’s goal just before the hour.
Gent may be eighth in the Belgian league but they will travel to London with hope, even though Spurs will be expected to overturn this deficit.
United, meanwhile, travel to France with a 3-0 advantage which will come in handy with the return just four days before they bid for the first major silverware of the season in the League Cup Final.
The veteran who is becoming both a talisman and a fans’ favourite scored a hat-trick to give United surely an unassailable lead ahead of the second leg.
The first, 15 minutes in, was a deflected free-kick which trickled in.
The second – 15 minutes before the end – was a tap-in to a Marcus Rashford cross.
The third – a softly awarded penalty which he won himself – two minutes from time sparked fans all over the world to write the headline Zlat-trick!
Sterner tests await both English clubs of course but the smart money remains on the English duo being in the draw for the last 16.
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