On an incredibly dramatic night of European football, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea all squeaked through to the quarter finals of the Europa League. Spurs relied on the somewhat illogical away goals rule to squeeze past Inter despite losing 4-1 at the San Siro, whilst Chelsea were nearly victims of that away goals rule, but beat Steaua 3-1 in the end to guarantee progression.
Newcastle snatched a last minute winner over Anzhi at St James Park, and with the Magpies now looking increasingly secure in the Premier League, is there a case for saying they have the best chance of the three English sides of winning the whole tournament?
Early in the competition there was every chance they could have been knocked out as they played weakened sides in what was largely viewed as a distraction. As their league form worsened, it seemed likely they would barely consider the competition at all, but their fine business in January has allowed them to climb the Premiership table to relative safety, and also compete in Europe.
So far they have beaten Metalist and Anzhi in the knockout stages, with the win over the Russian side particularly impressive as they kept two clean sheets. Whilst Newcastle cannot play all of their new signings in the Europa League, some have been able to have an impact, and the momentum that the side has gained in recent weeks could see them go all the way to the final no matter who they draw.
In contrast, Spurs and Chelsea are now looking a little jaded, and with so much riding on the final few fixtures in the Premiership, the Europa League might lose some of its significance. Even under Andre Villas-Boas, whose affinity for the tournament is well known, Spurs' players have sometimes looked unfocussed in Europe, and as Inter showed at the San Siro, the sides left in the competition will take full advantage of that.
Newcastle will most likely be assured of their Premier League place in the next few weeks, and so can commit wholesale to bringing home the trophy. Given the form their side is currently showing, you would not bet against them going all the way.
image: © machernucha