It’s fair to say that few people expected the 2021/22 season to start with full capacity allowed at games in England, but after watching almost the entire 2020/21 season behind closed doors (with the exception of the Europa League Final in Gdańsk) it’s been a much anticipated and welcome return. However, despite this being the case for much of the UK with Covid-19 vaccination take-up close to 90%, Europe’s progress is slower and the situation inconsistent across each country and league.
First off, it feels a little redundant to preview a season which is clouded in uncertainty, and where it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to attend matches until 2021, but this is just the state of the world attempting to live with Covid-19.
The 2018/19 season was pretty forgettable for United and left us facing another season in the Europa League. Thankfully, with Watford losing the FA Cup Final to City, we avoided entering the competition at the second qualifying round at the end of July(!) Instead it’s straight into the group stages with a much kinder mid-September start, and three less ties to navigate.
The city of Madrid is synonymous with the European Cup & Champions League; Real have won it a record 13 times (including the last 3 and first 5 in the late 50’s) whilst Atletico have been runners up 3 times, the two clubs have also faced each other in 2 of the last 5 finals (as well as this season’s Super Cup). This year the match will be hosted at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, which has been home to Atletico Madrid since 2017.
The last few months of European football have been full of both elation and realisation for United; Europa League glory in May followed by a stark reminder of the quality of teams we’ll have to face this season after the Super Cup final against Madrid. Fast forward to next May and it’s the final in Kiev, Ukraine.
With this summers European Championships in France, a trip to China and an early start to the season with the Community Shield at Wembley, it’s felt like football hasn’t really stopped this year. For some teams in Europe it basically didn’t. Whilst the draw for the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League group stage took place on Friday, the tournament actually started 2 months ago for those in the 1st qualifying round at the end of June. Should any of those teams manage to make it all the way to the final, due to be hosted at Sweden’s Friends Arena in Solna, Stockholm, they’ll have been playing in the Europa League for 11 months. It’s no wonder the competition is considered so gruelling by many.