The Europa League stages have begun in entertaining style. There have been big wins, dazzling individual performances, one shambolic match and a group that didn’t see a single goal. There is a lot of talking points from both on and off the pitch, so here is a run through of what happened in each group.
Slavia Prague 1-0 Maccabi Tel Aviv
Villarreal 3-1 Astana
Villarreal are big favourites to progress to the next round top of this group and they got off to a convincing start against FC Astana. Their forward Cedric Bakambu is amongst the biggest threats in the competition, but hadn’t started the match. However, he came on in the 70th minute with the score at 1-1 and scored after just five minutes on the pitch and opening up the space for Denis Cheryshev’s goal, showing just why he is so highly regarded. It is anticipated that the second place spot will go to either Slavia Prague or Maccabi Tel Aviv who fought it out in the other fixture of this group, but it was the Czech side who took the three points thanks to a Tomas Necid goal in the 12th minute.
Young Boys 1-1 Partizan Belgrade
Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Skenderbeu
Those at the Stade de Suisse must have thought they were in for a goal-fest when both Young boys and Partizan Belgrade scored before there was a quarter of an hour on the clock, however it turned out that they had seen all of the action as the game ended 1-1. Home supporters in Ukraine left very happy though, as their side asserted early dominance on the group with a 3-1 win over Skenderbeu, despite having gone into the break 1-0 down due to a goal from Gjergji Muzaka.
Hoffenheim 1-2 Braga
Istanbul Basaksehir 0-0 Ludogorets
There has been plenty of talk linking Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern Munich, however his latest Europa League match won’t lead for impressive reading. Defensive frailties had been revealed by Liverpool in the Champions League Play Off and Braga pair Joao Carlos Teixeira and Dyego Sousa exploited them to cancel out Sandro Wagner’s early goal to get the three points. In the other Group C fixture Istanbul Basaksehir who have househould names such as Emmanuel Adebayor, Gokhan Inler, Eljero Elia and Gael Clichy were unable to break down Ludogorets in a game which ended 0-0.
Austria Vienna 1-5 AC Milan
Rijeka 1-2 AEK Athens
AC Milan have allowed themselves to fade into the background in recent years, but after a big summer they have returned to European football with a bang. Their last appearance in continental competition was in 2013-14 where they got to the Champions League Round of 16, but they are favourites to win the Europa League this time round. Andre Silva was the star of the show in this game as he scored the group stages’ first hat trick, as he showed his tremendous movement and finishing. Hakan Calhanoglu also impressed with a goal and two assists, while Suso scored a great goal from range to complete the scoring. It will be hard for any team to keep up with them in this group, but AEK made sure that they got off to a good start with a 2-1 win against Rijeka
Atalanta 3-0 Everton
Apollon 1-1 Lyon
There was plenty of optimism at Everton ahead of this campaign following a summer of big spending which got them the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane and Wayne Rooney. However, that could be running out shortly after a poor start to their Premier League season and a poor showing against Atalanta, in which they conceded all of the game’s three goals in the first half. They looked lackluster in this game, which handed Andrea Masiello and Bryan Cristante, although there was nothing the Evertonians could do about Alejandro Gomez’s brilliant strike. This game may have been over by half time, but the tie between Apollon Limassol and Lyon had late drama. Former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay had put away a well taken penalty in the first half, but Adrian Sardinero scored in the 93rd minute to dramatically save a point for the Cypriots.
Zlin 0-0 Sheriff Tiraspol
FC Copenhagen 0-0 Lokomotiv Moscow
In terms of action on the pitch there really isn’t much to talk about with two 0-0 draws. Although one team who will be happy is FC Fastav Zlin, who played in their first ever Europa League group match. Although they, along with the rest of us will be hoping for more action in the next round of games.
FCSB 3-0 Viktoria Plzen
Hapoel Beer Sheva 2-1 Lugano
Viktoria Plzen have a perfect record in the Czech 1. Liga so would have been confident heading into this game, but a masterclass from Constantin Budescu led FCSB to a 3-0 win. In the other game of the group neither team really covered themselves in glory. Hapoel Beer Sheva scored in the second minute thanks to Dan Einbinder but then had Tomas Perkhart miss a penalty in the 11th. In the second half they got another spot kick and this time Shir Tzedek took and scored it, but just seven minutes later the Hapoel centre back scored an own goal. Lugano were unable to capitalise on the error and lost the game 2-1.
Arsenal 3-1 FC Koln
Red Star Belgrade 1-1 BATE Borisov
The big headlines in this group were made in the stands of the Emirates Stadium, as 20,000 Koln supporters descended upon and invaded Arsenal’s stadium, which led to kick off being delayed. Whether you agree or disagree with what they one thing that’s clear is that their fans’ actions have overshadowed what happened on the pitch, although that was spectacular at times too. Jhon Cordoba put Koln ahead in the ninth minute with a special strike after David Ospina had rushed out to clear the ball. The Germans even went into the break with their lead intact in their first European game for 25 years, although goals from Sead Kolasinac, Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin handed Arsenal the win. In the other Group J game, Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov couldn’t be separated, as they got a goal apiece
Guimaraes 1-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Marseille 1-0 Konyaspor
There has been a lot of talk about Dimitri Payet in the media recently, but on the pitch he helped his side beat Konyaspor, getting the assist Adil Rami’s goal in their 1-0 win. Another big talking point has been Red Bull and their exploits in football. With their Salzburg team failing to get into the Champions League they faced Guimaraes. It was the Portuguese side who went ahead through Pedrao, but Valon Berisha got the teams level just before half time, with the match ending 1-1. One interesting thing about this game, is that Guimaraes actually became the first ever team to play in the Europa League without a European player in their starting line up.
Zorya 0-2 Östersunds
Hertha Berlin 0-0 Athletic Bilbao
Östersunds continue their incredible story by winning their first ever Europa League group stage game, becoming the first Swedish team to win away in Ukraine. Saman Ghoddos was their top scorer in qualifying and continued this with a goal in the 50th minute, with Alhaji Gero wrapping up the win in the 94th minute. Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao will both be expecting to go through and with a 0-0 draw they have put a lot of importance on both sides’ matches against Östersunds and Zorya. If Östersunds do beat Hertha Berlin in their next match then they will certainly be in the driving seat to get through.
Zulte Waregem 1-5 Nice
Vitesse Arnhem 2-3 Lazio
Nice and Lazio are two of the strongest teams in the competition, so it won’t be a surprise to many that they both got off to winning starts. Nice blew away Zulte Waregem with two goals from Alassane Plea and a Dante, Allan Saint-Maximin and Mario Balotelli all amongst the goals. It was closer in Lazio’s match up with Vitesse Arnhem, as they were actually 2-1 down on the hour mark, but Ciro Immobile added a goal and assist to his hat trick against AC Milan on the weekend to make sure that Lazio walked away from GelreDome with three points in the bag.
Real Sociedad 4-0 Rosenborg
Vardar 0-5 Zenit St. Petersburg
Group L had two very one sided and a brilliant individual performance in each of its two games. Aleksandr Kokorin stole the show in Zenit’s 5-0 win over Vardar with two goals and a delightful assist, while Diego Llorente dominated the headlines in Real Sociedad’s 4-0 win over Rosenborg with two goals.