Time is ticking away in continental soccer and there’s still a lot to play for. The next three weeks will have significant implications for next year’s top flight leagues and competitions— here’s what I’m paying attention to. (Unfortunately the Revs have been far, far less than impressive: 1-7-3 is basically unacceptable).
After the stunning comeback win against Dortmund on April 14 in the Europa League quarterfinals in front of the Kop at Anfield, last week Liverpool flipped a 0:1 first leg away deficit in the semifinal to Villareal into a 3:0 home win and 3:1 win on aggregate to advance to the Europa League championship game against Sevilla next week in Basel. For the Reds, whose post-Suarez Premier League run of mediocrity now concludes its second year, their quasi-rejuvenation under Jurgen Klopp has now officially reached a fever pitch. With a win in Switzerland on May 18, Liverpool would automatically qualify for next year’s Champions League and bring a trophy back to Anfield for the first time since the League Cup in 2012. Call me a homer but I am becoming a believer, and am confident that Liverpool will complete this campaign of redemption and destiny with an exuberant trophy-raising next week.
Almost, But Not Quite
7 wins and 3 draws in their final 10 games were not enough to land Brighton & Hove Albion into the Top 2 of the League Championship and automatic promotion to the Premier League next year. Their 24-17-15/89 points had them even on points with 2nd-place Middlesbrough (with whom they played to a 1:1 on draw on the final matchday), but behind on goal difference, so into the League Championship Playoff they go. The Seagulls will play a two-legged fixture against 6th place Sheffield Wednesday (away on May 13 and home at the AmEx on May 16), with the hopes of making the playoff final at London’s Wembley Stadium on May 28 against the winner of Derby County and Hull City. Brighton’s Israeli striker Tomer Hemed’s 17 goals during the season were good for 5th in the League Championship, and he and Beram Kayal now have their eyes firmly on the prize with (hopefully) three games remaining between them and the EPL next year. Promotion for Brighton will garner them not only incredible television exposure and better transfers, but also about 100 million pounds in additional revenue.
The Desert Blooms
Over in Israel, Hapoel Beer Sheva has the inside track to the Ligat Ha’al championship, up 3 points on Maccabi Tel Aviv with just 3 games to play, as they seek their first league title in team history. Both teams are in action later today, but last week’s 0:0 draw between the two teams put a major damper on Maccabi’s aspirations of defending their title. With that being said, anything is possible, so keep watching the scoreboard for some end-of-season drama. On another front, Maccabi Haifa will be looking for a back door into next year’s Europa League in the State Cup final on May 23, when they take on Maccabi Tel Aviv at Teddy Stadium. The winner of Ligat Ha’al will enter the Champions League qualifying rounds this summer, and the runner-up and Beitar Jerusalem will enter the Europa League qualifying rounds, as well as the winner of the State Cup. However, if Maccabi Tel Aviv wins the State Cup, I am fairly certain that the 4th place team in the league will grab the third Europa League spot, so that might end being a dogfight between Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin. Stay tuned- it all goes down between now and Memorial Day.