Europe’s secondary competition, the Europa League, kicked off to an exciting start last week. In Group A, Swansea stole the headlines with a famous win at the Mestalla against a Valencia side crippled in the midst of debt and dissatisfaction from the fans. What was most surprising about the game was the ease in which Swansea won. The Premier League side enjoyed 69.4% of the possession, a massive chunk considering Spanish sides pride themselves on their passing approach to football.
It was a sign of intent from Swansea, and it showed they were certainly going to take the Europa League seriously. Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, was full of praise for his side, claiming the win was fantastic: “We dominated the whole game. They had nothing really and we had another three or four big, huge chances to score. So I’m very pleased.” In their next outing, Swansea will take on second placed St Gallen, who managed to beat Kuban Krasnador in Switzerland. A win in that match and they are firmly on their way to qualifying for the knockout round.
PSV may have enjoyed a highly impressive 4-0 win over Ajax in the Eredivisie, but prior to that, they were humbled by Ludogorets of Bulgaria in the Europa League Group B. Reading the stats, it seems it was a dominating performance from PSV. However, their shooting boots were evidently left at home as they racked up eighteen shots in the game to no avail. Ludogorets, on the other hand, managed to take the points with some luck, scoring both of their two shots on goal. In the other game, Chornomorets of Ukraine surprised Dinamo Zagreb by winning 2-1 in the Croatian capital. In the next outing, Dinamo Zagreb face a trip to Bulgaria to take on Ludogorets, while PSV travel to Odesa to take on Chornomorets.
In Group C, Red Bull Salzburg beat off the demons of last season’s embarrassing exit to Dudelange in the Champions League qualifiers after recording a victory over Elfsborg with the score of 4-0. A hat trick from Jonathan Soriano and a goal from former Brazil U20 international, Alan, sealed the points. In the other game, Esbjerg caused an upset after beating Standard Liege 2-1. In the next round, the two winners, Red Bull Salzburg and Esbjerg, are set to face each other in Denmark, while Elfsborg and Standard Liege meet in Sweden, with both sides looking to redeem themselves.
Wigan enjoyed their first European outing by registering a point in Group D. They had to ride the large wave of pressure from Zulte Waregem, but they managed to draw in the end, even if it was in frantic fashion. In the other game, Rubin showed the credentials to go further than the quarterfinal stage this season with a 5-2 win over Maribor. In the next round of games, Rubin take on Zulte Waregem, while Wigan face their first European home game against Maribor.
In Group E, Pacos De Ferreira again showed that European football may be a step too far for them as they lost 3-0 in Florence to Fiorentina. Former Manchester United striker, Giuseppe Rossi, was amongst the goalscorers as he wrapped up the win on the 76th minute. Dnipro look like they will be going on another Europa League run after beating Pandurii of Romania to keep in touch with Fiorentina at this early stage. On the next match day, the top two meet in Ukraine, while Pacos will look to record their first European home win this season when they take on Pandurii.
Eintracht Frankfurt may be struggling to hit the dizzying heights of last season, but they made short work of Bordeaux with a 3-0 victory. Goals from Vaclav Kadlec, Marco Russ, and Constant Djakpa were the difference in the end as the French Cup champions showed little resistance. In Tel Aviv, the other two sides in the group, Apoel and Maccabbi Tel Aviv, played out a 0-0 draw that was not ideal for either squad. In the next round of games, Frankfurt face a trip to Cyprus to take on 2012 Champions League quarter-finalists, Apoel, while Bourdeaux will look to bounce back at home against Maccabbi Tel Aviv.
Upsets have been the common theme in the opening match day, and it was no different in Group G, as Genk earned a priceless 1-0 victory in Kyiv against Dynamo. It was Dynamo’s first home defeat in the Europa League (UEFA Cup) since 1993, when they lost 3-0 at home to Anderlecht. Thun marked a good week for Swiss football as they beat Rapid Vienna at home, with a goal from Marco Schneuwly enough to separate the sides. The next round of games make for interesting reading as Dynamo Kyiv head to Vienna in search of victory and Genk seeking to improve their start with a win over Thun.
In Group H, Frieburg were disappointingly pegged back as they drew at home with Slovan Liberec. Two second half goals from Vladyslav Kalytvynsten and Michael Rabusic brought the Czech club from certain defeat as they scuppered Freiburg’s 2-0 halftime lead. Sevilla put their issues of league form to bed as they beat Portuguese side, Estoril, 2-1, with Vitolo and Kevin Grameiro scoring the goals to seal a fairly comfortable victory. In the next round of games, Sevilla and Frieburg meet at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in arguably the biggest game of the group, whilst Slovan Liberec host Estoril, looking to capitalize on their 2-2 draw with Freiburg.
Real Betis & Lyon shared the spoils in Seville in a fairly uneventful game. A 0-0 draw probably proved to work better for the French club, who on their previous visit to Spain had been beaten by Real Sociedad 2-0. Portuguese cup champions, Vitoria, showed their intent as they beat Rijeka of Croatia with the score of 4-0. In the next round of game, Rijeka host Real Betis. While Lyon welcome Vitoria to the Stade Gerland.
In Group J, Trabzonspor flew the flag for Turkey after beating Apollon Limassaol thanks to a late goal from Yusuf Erdogan. The Turkish club had trailed after Gaston Sangoy put the Cypriots in front, however former Chelsea midfielder, Florent Malouda, drew Trabzonspor leveled minutes after. Legia Warsaw put up a respectable display in Rome, however it proved to be not enough as they were beaten 1-0 thanks to goal from Brazilian midfielder Hernanes. In the next round of games, Legia play host to Apollon Limassol. While Trabzonspor and Lazio meet in what appears to be an early group decider.
Anzhi problems were ripe as they could only conjure up a performance that warranted a 0-0 with Sheriff of Moldova. Meanwhile, Jermaine Defoe proved his worth to André Villas-Boas by scoring twice in a comfortable 3-0 win for Tottenham over Tromso. Christian Eriksen scored his first European goal for Tottenham, as he netted a wonderful third in the win. In the next round of games, Tottenham travel to Moscow to take on Anzhi, and Tromso play host to Sheriff.
A stoppage time goal from Zvonimir Vukic won PAOK all three points as they beat Shakhter Karagandy 2-1. Dutch side, AZ, earned a vital away win in Israel, as they beat Maccabbi Haifa 1-0 in the other match. In the next round of games, Shakhter Karagandy take on Maccabbi Haifa. While PAOK travel to Holland to take on AZ.
Written by Jimmy Cartwright