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English heavy weights Manchester United and Arsenal would face tough ties when the Europa League returns for the knockout stages today amid complaints about the relocation of various matches due to coronavirus restrictions.
As announced by UEFA both legs between Arsenal and Benfica have been moved to neutral venues with Thursday’s first clash taking place in Rome and the second leg in Athens.
United’s trip to Real Sociedad this week has also been switched to Turin with no elite sports exemption allowed for the English giants to travel to the Basque Country due to concerns over new strains of Covid-19.
Real Sociedad’s director of football, Roberto Olabe, criticized UEFA for what he sees as an unfair advantage should the Spanish side have to play the second leg in Manchester.
‘It does not seem coherent to me that as the home team, we play on a neutral field and as a visitor, we do it there,” he told Diario Vasco.
‘I would like the return to be also on a neutral ground or for UEFA to appoint a single venue for a one-game tie as it did last year.’
United were involved in the final stages of last year’s competition when one-off ties, all held in Germany, were used to make up for lost time due to the pandemic halting games across the continent for three months.
The Red Devils manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is also in favour of a return to the one-game format to ease the fixture burden with his side still involved in three competitions.
If United progressed to the finals of both the Europa League and FA Cup, they could still have 26 games to play before the end of the season, meaning they would be in action twice a week until late May.
‘It’s not a decision we made but when one game is in a neutral venue, it’s a disadvantage to the team that doesn’t have the home game,” said Solskjaer.
‘That’s out of our hands. We can’t say we’d go to Turin and play one game, I wouldn’t mind that at all, it would be one game less.’
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK