DÜSSELDORF, Germany — There's one way to find out if a team deserves to win the Europa League. Play Sevilla.Manchester United takes on the ultimate Europa League experts Sunday when it faces five-time champion Sevilla in the semifinals. Every time Sevilla has got to the quarterfinal stage, it's gone on to win the competition, and Sevilla has never lost a Europa League game to an English club.United midfielder Nemanja Matic believes mental strength will be key in Cologne.“We’re in good condition. Of course, the season was long but we knew it before, what we can expect. And the most important now is mentally to be ready,” Matic said after the quarterfinal win over Copenhagen. "I think that mental point will decide (the) semifinal and final."Semifinals have been a problem for United. Manchester City knocked United out of the EFL Cup at the semifinal stage in January and Chelsea did the same in the FA Cup last month.United finished the Premier League season in style but needs to replicate that form on the European stage. Against Copenhagen, Europa League top scorer Bruno Fernandes eventually won the game 1-0 with a penalty, but only after the Danish club had forced United to extra time — more physical strain in the longest of seasons.Sevilla narrowly avoided extra time in its 1-0 win over Wolverhampton thanks to Lucas Ocampos' winning goal in the 88th minute. Sevilla is unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions and coach Julen Lopetegui says the players are fired up.“(United) are obviously a top team with great strength, but these are the semifinals of the Europa League, and the only thing that will help us through any difficulty or situation that we come across at this high level is ambition, excitement and the desire to compete,” Lopetegui said.SHAKHTAR'S JOURNEYInter Milan's semifinal opponent, Shakhtar Donetsk, hasn't played a real home game in more than six years.Its home city is Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, which has been under the control of Russia-backed separatists since 2014. The club has used various stadiums across Ukraine ever since for league and European games.One thing hasn't changed, though. Just as in 2009, when Shakhtar won the Europa League with a squad including future English Premier League stars Willian and Fernandinho, it still builds its team around Brazil-born players.All four of its goal scorers in the 4-1 win over Basel in the quarterfinals were born in Brazil. The naturalized Ukrainian Junior Moraes got Shakhtar started with a second-minute header before Taison, Alan Patrick and Dodo completed the job.“I'm feeling amazing,” Moraes said. "We trust we can go until the final but every game is very hard, very difficult because we play against a high level so the opponent is very difficult. But if you want to improve yourself, you must play against these teams."Getting to the final will mean defeating Inter and in-form forward Romelu Lukaku when the two teams meet Monday in Düsseldorf. Inter beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the quarterfinals.___More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_SportsJames Ellingworth, The Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal — The postmortem from Gerard Piqué was as brutal as the humiliation dished to Barcelona by Bayern Munich.“It’s a disastrous result," the defender said. "An embarrassment, that’s the word.”The numbers were 8-2.Another number? 74. It's that many years since Barcelona conceded as many goals in a game."We have hit rock bottom," Piqué said in a television interview on the field after Friday's loss dumped the five-time winners out of the Champions League in the quarterfinals.Unlike the capitulations in the previous two seasons — against Roma and Liverpool — there was no first-leg lead to throw away.Not even Lionel Messi could save Barcelona at the end of a season in which he has seemed increasingly agitated by the disarray.This was a night of utter misery in Lisbon in the pandemic-enforced single-game reformatting of a knockout stage that has never a seen a team lose so heavily in the Champions League era.If it wasn't embarrassing enough, Barcelona had to watch Philippe Coutinho inflict the final blows and make the collapse all the more painful.The German champions were already cruising into the semifinals with a 5-2 lead when Coutinho was sent on for the final 15 minutes.The Brazilian found time for an assist — pinging the ball to the head of the unmarked Robert Lewandowski — and then to score twice himself against a goalkeeper he knows so well.Marc-André ter Stegen is still Coutinho's teammate. The 160 million euros forward remains not only Barca's record signing but still their player. He's only on loan at Bayern for this season after struggling to settle at the parent club he joined from Liverpool in 2018 as the supposed heir to Andrés Iniesta.He never even had a chance to work under Quique Setién, who was hired in January to replace Ernesto Valverde.It's hard to see Setién getting a full season in charge now after Barcelona finished a campaign trophyless for the first time since 2008 — right before Pep Guardiola took charge and ushered in an era of dominance. But Barca hasn't won the Champions League since Luis Enrique swept five trophies in 2015.“We need new blood," Piqué said, without discussing specifics. “There need to be changes at all levels."Setién knows Piqué's assessment will resonate across the club.“I’ve been here for just a few months,” he said. "If Gerard says that it’s time for big changes there’s going to be importance to his words. It’s time for us to review and take the decisions which are needed for the future.”A future that probably won't include Setién after accepting his “credibility" had been further diminished.“Some decisions were already taken, and others will be taken as a result of this," Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said. "From next week they’ll be worked through. Right now isn’t the time to make knee-jerk decisions, it’s time to think.”The players accept culpability at the end of a season when they finished second in La Liga behind Real Madrid and only reached the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.One comfort for Barcelona is that Madrid can't add to its record 13 European Cups. For the first time since 2007, neither Barcelona nor Madrid reached the semifinals.“Today showed that we have a lot of problems in the team,” Barcelona midfielder midfielder Frenkie de Jong said. “We know we have to make a lot of changes."The players were spared having to face any abuse from supporters in public due to the pandemic restricting access to the Lisbon stadiums.“It’s difficult to take also for the fans,” De Jong said. “Sorry to them.”___More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_SportsRob Harris, The Associated Press
It's time we reset our expectations for Barcelona, which has spent months begging to be torn apart by a team as good as they used to be, and finally were.
LISBON, Portugal — A look at Saturday's Champions League game between Manchester City and Lyon which determines the opponent for Bayern Munich in the semifinals:STORYLINEThe one major trophy Manchester City has not won since its influx of investment from Abu Dhabi in 2008 is the European Cup. And Pep Guardiola's side will have to try to reach the semifinals for only the second time with Sergio Aguero still sidelined, recovering from knee surgery. While City ousted record 13-time champion Real Madrid in the pandemic-delayed quarterfinal, Lyon qualified for the unique last eight mini-tournament by beating Italian champion Juventus. Lyon has forward Memphis Depay fit again after a cruciate ligament injury. In the group stage last season, Lyon was unbeaten against City —- winning away at the English Premier League club and drawing at home.TOP SCORERCity: Raheem Sterling (31 goals).Lyon: Moussa Dembélé (22 goals).KEY PLAYMAKERCity: Kevin De Bruyne (22 assists).Lyon: Houssem Aouar (4 assists).TOP DEFENDERCity: Aymeric Laporte.Lyon: Marcelo.DOMESTIC FINISHCity: Premier League (2nd), League Cup (winner), FA Cup (semifinals).Lyon: Ligue 1 (7th), League Cup (runner-up), French Cup (semifinals).EUROPEAN CUP BESTCity: Semifinals (2016).Lyon: Semifinals (2010).REVENUECity: 535.2 million pounds ($701 million).Lyon: 309 million euros ($365.6 million).WAGE BILLCity: 315.3 million pounds ($413 million).Lyon: 130.9 million euros ($155 million).___More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_SportsThe Associated Press