The first 24 matches have been completed in the Europa League, and they mostly went as expected. But there were still some surprises, and this will highlight some of those results. Here are some of the more shocking results of the first round of matches from around Europe (based on UEFA rankings heading into the match or location). I’ll also be referencing clubs’ chances to win their group or advance, and I am using the great UEFA Europa League Predictions over at FiveThirtyEight for that (so I don’t have to keep linking it in multiple spots). Home teams are listed first:
Slavia Prague 1-0 Bordeaux
Slavia Prague entered their opening match against French club Bordeux as the 153rd ranked club according to UEFA. Bordeaux, the sixth place club from Ligue 1, was ranked 115th. Not a huge discrepancy, and not the largest gap of any of these matches profiled today. Nevertheless, the result was fairly shocking, even if it didn’t have a huge impact on Prague reaching the Round of 32 (27% per FiveThirtyEight) nor winning the group outright (8%). In match 2, Prague faces off against Zenit Saint Petersburg in Russia, the nominal best club in the group (ranked 16th by UEFA), so it remains to be seen if they remain in the top position for much longer.
Spartak Trnava 1-0 Anderlecht
Group D was the only group that saw its top two clubs (according to UEFA rankings) lose, and both winning teams took advantage of a home pitch advantage to do so. The first matchup saw Spartak Trnava, the lone club from Slovakia to make it to the Group Stage, defeat Anderlecht of Belgium. Trnava entered the match ranked 282nd according to UEFA, while Anderlecht was the 33rd ranked team. Anderlecht also joined Europa at the Group Stage, while Trnava had to make it through the play-off round after losing in the third qualifying round of the Champions League (to one of our favorite Small Clubs Red Star Belgrade). Despite the upset, however, Trnava remains the least favored club from the group to advance on to the round of 32, so a strong showing in its Matchday 2 matchup at Fenerbahçe will be important. But the Turkish club will also be looking for a win because…Dinamo Zagreb 4-1 Fenerbahce
…they lost by three goals to Croation club Dinamo Zagreb. Though the gap wasn’t between UEFA rankings wasn’t nearly as large – #66 for Fenerbahçe versus #77 for Zagreb – the result was the most exciting part. There was only one other match that had a goal differential as large, and that was in Sevilla’s 5-1 blowout victory over Standard Liège of Belgium. Both clubs were transfers over from the Champions League, and Zagreb had to play an additional round, so it’s hard to say what the difference in the match was. The match was in Croatia, so the home pitch may have been helpful, but either way, Zagreb is now the favorite (though not strongly) to win the Group and advance after one match. Fenerbahçe has the second best chance at this point, so the aforementioned Matchday 2 duel against Spartak Trnava will be hugely important to set themselves right.
Villarreal 2-2 Rangers
I chose a draw for much of the same reasons as the others. Spain’s Villarreal remains the overwhelming favorite in the group, while Scotland’s Rangers brings up the rear. Yet Rangers went into Estadio de la Ceramica and walked away with a hard fought point, coming back twice after conceding a goal in the first minute. Rangers, who started the match as the 265th ranked club (according to UEFA), forced the 32nd ranked club to drop two points on their inevitable march to winning the group. Rangers will have a tough test ahead of them in the next match, against current group leader Rapid Wien of Austria, but it will be back home in Glasgow in what is sure to be a rocking Ibrox Stadium.
Matchday 2 of 6 kicks off in a couple of weeks on October 4th, and all the clubs will be back in their domestic leagues looking to round into shape. The early favorite to win Europa remains English club Chelsea, in part due to their dominant performance (thus far) through five weeks of Premier League play. They are the only club currently over 10% in FiveThirtyEight’s Europa League predictor, though that will potentially change through the remaining matches in Group Play, as well as the introduction of the third place clubs from the Group Stage of the Champions League in the Round of 32.
Until next time…
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