BARI ITALY - JANUARY 23: Edinson Cavani of Napoli in action during the Serie A match between Bari and Napoli at Stadio San Nicola on January 23 2011 in Bari Italy. (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)

UEFA Europa League: Liverpool Play One Of The Worst Games In Football History While Bayer Leverkusen Entertain

The bright lights of the UEFA Champions League are off for the moment, so here's a look at Europe's other continental competition and what wonders it has to offer.

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Sparta Prague Vs. Liverpool FC: 0-0 Full Time, Passing Football ≠ Attacking Football

At the end of this match, a screen needed to flash on the screen, ala Oregon Trail. "You have died of boredom." So bad was the UEFA Europa League match between Sparta Prague and Liverpool FC that supporters threw a smoke bomb onto the pitch in the second half to express their displeasure. And really, I can't blame them. I don't support hooliganism and I find it really hard to support things like throwing smoke bombs onto the pitch, but holy crap, that game was really bad. The smoke bomb was awesome, because it allowed me to give my brain a three minute rest from the suck. 

I would describe key events from the game, but there were none. The smoke bomb was far and away the coolest thing that happened in this game. I just got a text message from a friend of mine that said "I didn't even go to the game and I want my money back." You and me both, buddy.

From 20:51 on the BBC Live text commentary:

"Barca-like possession from Liverpool initially."

Okay, so, Liverpool can keep the ball. I guess we can at least give them that. That doesn't mean they did anything, though, and the fact that this person invoked the name of Barcelona is really, really insulting to Barcelona. Liverpool did not attack just because they completed 400 or so passes. They did nothing with it. It was anti-football through passing. 

The people running the ESPN commentary had it right, in my estimation.

"It's all over. Thank goodness...I'm only sorry that we can never get those 93 minutes of our lives back. "

Thanks for setting the record straight, faceless ESPN robot.

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Sparta Prague Vs. Liverpool FC: 0-0 Halftime, And This One Isn't The Good Kind Of Nil-Nil

Liverpool and Sparta Prague are engaged in a bit of a snoozefest in their UEFA Europa League match in Prague, which might actually be a good thing. Earlier today, Villarreal and Napoli were involved in one of those exciting 0-0 draws in the first half, which gave way to a poor second half. Hopefully this game will be the opposite, with a poor first half giving way to a much more entertaining second half.

Sparta have looked a bit dangerous at times, but there's been no obvious "they're about to score" moment. Pepe Reina hasn't been forced into any absolutely world class saves, but he's still playing very well. His command of his area has been superb as always. The best part of Liverpool's game has been their ability to keep the ball, but those long spells of possession have hardly gone anywhere. David N'Gog is playing up top, and he has been neither terrible, nor good. Sparta's wingers are having a decent impact on the game so far, but they could do a lot more to get Vaclav Kadlec set up for some great scoring chances. On top of that, the center of their midfield could do a little better to try to win the ball back.

For the tl;dr crowd: Average game. Second half should be better than the first.

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Napoli Vs. Villarreal: 0-0 Full Time In A Slightly Disappointing Fixture

Napoli and Villarreal played an exciting first half in their UEFA Europa League encounter, but the second half was not nearly as eventful. The Yellow Submarine came on a bit at the end, challenging Napoli's goal, but failed to score. A 0-0 was probably a fair result, and both sides will find it very difficult to complain. 

With a couple of great rosters and an excellent start to the game, it appeared that we were in for a real thriller. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way, and both teams failed to show the quality that has taken them to Champions League places in their respective domestic leagues.

Still, a 0-0 sets up an interesting second leg back in Spain, Villarreal will almost certainly be slight favorites, but it would be foolish to count out Napoli. Marek Hamsik did not start today, and it will be an especially interesting game if all three of Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani start the second leg.

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Napoli Vs. Villarreal: 0-0 Halftime, But It's One Of Those Good Nil-Nils

A lot of times, when someone tells you that a game is tied 0-0 or that a game ended in a 0-0 draw, they say it with a hint of disdain in their voice. You know the tone.

"Hey Kevin, how did that game end?"

"Ugh...0-0..."

Today's UEFA Europa League matchup between Napoli and Villarreal has not been one of those 0-0 games. It's one of the rare bunch that is just as entertaining as any goal-fest. Both teams have had some good chances, both teams are defending very well, both teams are passing extremely well, and it's been an interesting tactical battle. Villarreal have done a good job of nullifying Napoli's wing backs and forcing them inside a bit, while Napoli's back three has done a good job of defending Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi.

Giuseppe Mascara got a slightly surprising start today for Napoli, in place of Marek Hamsik and Jose Ernesto Sosa. Mascara has played well enough, but with Napoli failing to score so far in the home leg, you have to wonder how soon Hamsik is going to enter the game. When he does, the most likely candidate to come off is Mascara. That's unfortunate for him, since he's certainly been competent.

Villarreal will be satisfied with a draw on the road in the first leg, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them get aggressive and chase an away goal. Marco Ruben and Cani are their best attacking options on the bench, and both players could change the game considerably.

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 0-4 Full Time, Visitors Dominate Second Half

The first half of the UEFA Europa League match between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Metalist Kharkiv was very evenly matched, with Eren Derdiyok's goal being the only real difference between the two sides. The second half was a completely different story, as Metalist were completely overrun by their visitors. Bayer's second goal was stunning, and Sidney Sam decided to add a stoppage time brace to put the exclamation point on a fantastic win that all but guarantees Bayer's safe passage into the next round of the competition.

Metalist were almost certainly affected by the fact that they have not played since November, which would explain why they were a good match for Bayer in the first half, but faded significantly towards the end of the game. Bayer's second goal came in the 72nd minute, and it was all downhill from there as Metalist would fail to create much of anything going forward from that point on. 

Renato Augusto was almost certainly the man of the match, as he was the focal point of both of Bayer's two goals before he was substituted. Derdiyok's goal was technically assisted by Hanno Balitisch, but Augusto was the man directing the traffic. His give and go move with Derdiyok to set up Castro for a tap in was even more impressive.

Once the game was already basically over, Sidney Sam decided to turn the score line from fair to embarrassing, scoring a brace for himself with two goals in stoppage time. It put the exclamation point on a great win for Bayer that was well deserved.

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 0-2, Are You Barca In Disguise?

FC Metalist Kharkiv might have finally had all hopes of advancing to the next round of the UEFA Europa League, thanks to an incredible FC Barcelona-esque goal from their opponents, Bayer Leverkusen. The German side now have a 2-0 lead in Kharkiv in the second half, and as good of a team goal as the opener was, the second goal was even better.

The move was started in the 72nd minute by Arturo Vidal, who has had a great game in the center of midfield for the visitors. He passed the ball to Renato Augusto, who found space in the middle of the pitch, and he quickly moved it along to Eren Derdiyok. The Bayer attacking pair of Augusto and Derdiyok played a great one-two give and go exchange, resulting in Augusto chipping the ball up over the keeper towards the far post. The ball might have gone in anyway, but substitute Gonzalo Castro wasn't going to take any chances. He beat his defender and tapped the ball into the back of the net, capping off a fantastic team goal that looked like something out of an FC Barcelona game.

Partially to get them standing ovations from the away fans as a reward for their work and partially to solidify the team and hold onto the lead, Bayer have subbed off Augusto and Derdiyok, bringing on Simon Rolfes and Stefan Kiessling.

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 0-1 Halftime, Eren Derdiyok Goal The Difference

It's been a very evenly matched UEFA Europa League match between FC Metalist Kharkiv and Bayer Leverkusen, but one moment of brilliance stands out above all else, and that has been the difference. Bayer's 22nd minute goal was a great one, scored on a clean finish by Eren Derdiyok after Renato Augusto and Hanno Balitisch did very well to set him up. Metalist have had opportunities as well, but no one has had Derdiyok's finishing touch.

Taison has been the biggest attacking threat for the home side, while Xavier and newcomer Sebastian Blanco have contributed as well. Blanco's fellow Argentinian and fellow newcomer Jonathan Cristaldo has made less of an impact, struggling to mesh with his teammates. They will have to get him more acclimated to the game or make a substitution in the second half if they want to score, and therefore, have some chance of advancing to the next round after the second leg at the BayArena.

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: Sebastian Blanco, Jonathan Cristaldo With Very Different Kinds Of Debuts

Sebastian Blanco and Jonathan Cristaldo, a couple of Argentinian attack-minded players, looked like fantastic January additions to FC Metalist Kharkiv on paper. In time, it's likely that both of them will become staples of a side that features six South American players in today's starting lineup and another on the bench. However, they have had two very different debuts so far in Metalist's UEFA Europa League match against Bayer Leverkusen.

Cristaldo has given the ball away on a few occasions and has looked lost once in a while. He doesn't appear to be up for dealing with the physical defending of Bayer Leverkusen, and does not appear to be on the same page with attacking mates Taison and Xavier.

Blanco, on the other hand, looks pretty good. He's had some trouble with Arturo Vidal and Lars Bender in the middle, but in general, he's been able to show off a lot more of his talent than Cristaldo has to this point. Though he's been beaten in a couple of 50-50 ball situations and his communication with his teammates isn't quite there yet, he's had a couple of fantastic bits of individual skill, including a turn and pass that set up Taison for Metalist's best opportunity of the game, where the Brazilian struck the post in the 35th minute.

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: Great Team Goal Capped Off By Eren Derdiyok

Bayer Leverkusen have broken the deadlock in their UEFA Europa League game against FC Metalist Kharkiv, securing a valuable away goal in the 22nd minute off of a fantastic team move. Eren Derdiyok was the man who finished the play with a great composed finish, but the credit for the goal should be divided up equally among Derdiyok and a couple of his teammates.

The real dangerous part of Bayer's team move was started by Renato Augusto, who is playing as an attacking central midfielder behind Derdiyok. He sprayed the ball out to the left hand side of the penalty area, where it was picked up by Hanno Balitsch. The German winger, who has been a starter in Europa league but primarily used as a substitute in the Bundesliga, swung in a great low ball across the face of goal. Derdiyok timed his run perfectly in order to stay onside and was virtually uncontested when he reached the ball. As the ball skipped up off the turf, the Swiss international striker hit a fantastic creative right footed shot, directing the ball into the back of the net at the far post with his first touch. 

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FC Metalist Kharkiv Vs. Bayer Leverkusen: Forwards Influential, Weather Affecting Play

It's been an interesting start to the UEFA Europa League match between FC Metalist Kharkiv and Bayer Leverkusen, with both teams showing a willingness to attack, but with the weather obviously affecting play. It's a balmy 15 degrees Fahrenheit in Kharkiv today, and everyone is wearing a snood. One might think that Leverkusen would be the more affected by the weather of the two teams, but Metalist have six South Americans in the team, two of which have just recently joined up. Both teams look slightly slow and robotic, but the pitch looks to be in very good condition despite the weather, allowing both teams to pass on the ground.

Both teams have forwards who have been very influential in the game by drifting around to find the ball and space to operate while bringing their teammates into the game. Metalist's Taison and Bayer Leverkusen's Eren Derdiyok have both looked very good in the early going.

Unfortunately, Metalist have already been forced into an early substitution due to injury. Defender Sergei Pshenichnikh had to come off in teh 15th minute, and was replaced by Andriy Berezovchuk in a like for like substitution.

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UEFA Europa League: Napoli Vs. Villarreal, Lille Vs. PSV Eindhoven Highlight First Knockout Round Ties

This week's UEFA Champions League matches, specifically the one between Barcelona and Arsenal, had big stars on display and the attention of everyone. Thursday gives way to Europe's other continental competition, the UEFA Europa League. Though the names aren't as big and flashy, the matchups in this year's first knockout round are fantastic and just as worthwhile for die-hard footy fans as the matchups in the big sister competition. If you want to see great players transform from stars to super duper mega-stars, the Europa league is must-see TV. This is the competition that brought players like Daniel Alves and Andrei Arshavin out from local hero status and exposed them to the entire world. 

There has already been one match this morning, and forgive me for not covering it. Rubin Kazan have fallen at home to FC Twente, 2-0. The start time of the game was moved up because of the cold temperatures. UEFA and Twente had different thermometers, but reports put the temperature at somewhere between 0 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Supposedly, it was a bad game. With temperatures that low, I'll take the word of the people that told me this.

The second game of the day takes place in Ukraine, where FC Metalist Kharkiv take on Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. You'll be happy to know that Kharkiv's temperatures are nothing like Kazan's. It's a wonderful, tropical...16 degrees! Metalist have an impressive South American contingent, including a winner of last year's Copa Libertadores, Taison. They face a very talented Bayer side who are loaded just about everywhere, except striker. That's because they sold Patrick Helmes to Wolfsburg without buying any cover, and they now have two strikers on their roster. Oops.

If you enjoy yelling, screaming, throwing things, and temper tantrums, then it sucks that you're not in the Pacific Northwest and good friends with SBNation Soccer writers Graham MacAree and Kirsten Schlewitz. They will be throwing fits while physically throwing things at their computer monitors as their beloved Napoli takes on Giuseppe "The Situation" Rossi and the rest of his Villarreal squad. This is almost certainly the marquee matchup of this set of fixtures, and it's a bit sad that these teams have to meet this early in the tournament. Most people are already well aware of Marek Hamsik and Edinson Cavani thanks to the World Cup, but this could very well be the year they hit Alves or Arshavin status and get snatched up by a superclub for eleventy billion dollars.

PSV Eindhoven and Lille square off in one of the late games, and they have some players who could become that next big start to emerge from the shadows of the Europa League. Eden Hazard of Lille is widely regarded as one of the best young attacking midfield players in the world, while his teammates Moussa Sow and Gervinho have poured in the goals on a regular basis. PSV's stars Ola Toivonen and Balazs Dzsudzsak have been tearing Holland apart all year, and they have 12 league goals apiece. Both teams lead their respective leagues right now, leading conventional wisdom to state that this is going to be a very good and very close tie.

The action starts at 11 am ET with Metalist vs. Bayer and we'll be following games in all three of the starting timeslots, all the way to the end of the late games at 5 pm ET.

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