Tuesday 16 February 2021 7:00 am

Why are English clubs playing Champions League and Europa League matches at neutral venues?

Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are all playing Champions League fixtures at neutral venues this month.

The same is true for Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in the Europa League.

So why is it happening? Why have both legs of Arsenal’s tie been moved? Why is Leicester’s trip to Prague unaffected? And what does this mean for away goals?

Why are Liverpool playing RB Leipzig in Budapest?

Ordinarily, Liverpool would be in Germany this week for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against RB Leipzig.

However, Germany has imposed a ban on travellers arriving from the UK in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19 variants.

That means an alternative venue had to be found for tonight’s game in a country prepared to allow arrivals from England.

That neutral venue is the shiny new Puskas Arena in Budapest, the Hungarian national stadium which opened in 2019.

Why are Chelsea playing Atletico Madrid in Bucharest?

Spain has also banned arrivals from the UK for Covid-19 reasons, impacting the first leg of Chelsea v Atletico Madrid on Tuesday 23 February.

So instead of Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, Chelsea will play the away leg of the Champions League last 16 tie in Bucharest.

The neutral venue is the Arena Nationala, which staged the 2012 Europa League final and, like the Puskas Arena, is due to host Euro 2020 fixtures this summer.

Why are Manchester City playing Borussia Monchengladbach in Budapest?

Like Liverpool, Manchester City were due to play the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie with Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany.

And like Liverpool, City are effectively prohibited from entering the country for the fixture on Wednesday 24 February.

So, like Liverpool, Pep Guardiola team will be travelling to Hungary instead to play their Bundesliga opponents at the Puskas Arena.

The Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary, is playing host to three fixtures involving English clubs this week and next
The Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary, is playing host to three fixtures involving English clubs this week and next (Getty Images)

Why are Manchester United playing Real Sociedad in Turin?

Like Chelsea, Manchester United are unable to travel to Spain for their tie with Real Sociedad on Thursday because of the country’s current Covid-19 rules.

So instead, United will be playing the Europa League last 32 first leg in Turin, at the neutral venue of the Allianz Stadium, home to Juventus.

Why are Tottenham playing Wolfsberger in Budapest?

Covid-19 rules in Austria prevent Tottenham from travelling to Wolfsberg for Thursday’s Europa League last 32 first leg match with Wolfsberger.

So, 48 hours after Liverpool play there in the Champions League, Spurs, too, will be playing at the Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary.

Why are Arsenal playing Benfica in Rome and Athens?

Arsenal are a different case for two reasons.

First, both legs of their Europa League last 32 tie against Benfica have been moved to different neutral venues.

And second, because – unlike the other English teams – this is due to UK rules regarding Covid-19 and travel.

Portugal is currently on the UK’s red list, meaning anyone arriving from there must quarantine for 10 days on arrival here.

That is not possible due to the frequency of football fixtures, and affects both legs of the tie.

So instead of playing the away leg in Lisbon, Arsenal will face Benfica at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Thursday.

And rather than playing the return leg at Emirates Stadium, the two teams will meet at the Karaiskakis Stadium, the home to Olympiacos in Piraeus, Athens.

Will all the other second legs be in England?

As things stand at the time of writing, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham are due to play their home legs at their own stadiums.

However, recent changes to regional guidance in Germany has raised questions about RB Leipzig’s prospective visit to Anfield on 10 March.

With three weeks in between the first and second legs of Champions League last 16 ties, the potential for further disruption looks greater in that competition.

What about Slavia Prague v Leicester City?

Of the seven Premier League teams still in European competition this season, one has avoided a rearranged fixture at a neutral venue.

Leicester will face Slavia Prague at the Czech team’s home, the Sinobo Stadium, in their Europa League last 32 first leg on Thursday.

As it stands, the return leg next week is also due to be played at the intended venue, Leicester’s King Power Stadium.

And do away goals still count double at neutral venues?

Away goals will still be used to decide ties that finish level, despite the use of neutral venues.

So Liverpool can gain an edge with a score draw in Budapest this week that RB Leipzig would not, despite it not being their home either.

And Arsenal can score away goals in Rome but not Athens, while for Benfica it’s the opposite.

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