With 24 matches over eight hours on Thursday, Matchday 2 of Europa League is officially in the books. Though the bulk of the matchups went exactly as expected, there were definitely some surprises among the results.
With three months of action remaining before the knockout stage begins in February, every club is still technically alive, though four clubs – Lugano (9%), Ferencváros (9%), Vitória de Guimarães (4%) and Rosenborg (3%) – now have less than a 10% chance of advancing to the Round of 32.
Chances are, however, that at least one club that will meet at Stadion Energa Gdańsk on 27 May are not even yet in the tournament, with Red Bull Salzburg and Inter Milan among the favorites to come over as third-place finishers from the Champions League group stage.
Here’s a brief look at what went down across Europe yesterday:
Day of Draws
When I initially looked at the results, it seemed like every other match resulted in a draw, but at the end of the day, only 10 of the 24 matches did. Nonetheless, after a Matchday 1 that saw only three draws, a 300% increase was definitely worth noting. Three groups – Groups A, I, and J – had both matches yesterday end in draws, with the latter two groups featuring four very exciting 1-1 draws.
Of the ten draws, the most unexpected result occurred between Braga and Slovan Bratislava at Estádio Municipal in Braga. The home club entered the match favored to win 58% of the time (according to FiveThirtyEight), and drew first blood with a Bruno Viana goal in the 31st minute. The visitors were able to equalize during added time just before the break, but Braga remained in control, and added a go-ahead goal by Galeno in the 63rd minute.
Slovan Bratislava kept pushing, and Viana became the goat of the match when he diverted a Slovan pass into his own net for an own goal with less than five minutes remaining. Despite dominating statistically, Braga was unable to escape with more than the 2-2 draw, and find themselves in second place in the group behind Slovan due to the away-goal tiebreaker.
Group G ended the day as perhaps the most open group at this stage in the tournament. The winning clubs from Matchday 1 – Porto and Rangers both won at home three weeks ago – went on the road and lost to Feyenoord and Young Boys, respectively. Feyenoord’s 2-0 victory over Porto was the biggest upset of the day, as they entered the match as severe underdogs (22% chance to win) to Porto (56%). They came through with two second goals after limited chances in the first half, and now find themselves at the top of the table, though they have the lowest odds (24%) of the group to advance to the next round.
The group table has flipped from where it was after Matchday 1, with former leader Porto now in fourth position and Feyenoord at the top of the group. All clubs in the group have three points, and it is only through the various tiebreakers that we are able to rank the clubs at the moment. Porto remains the favorite to win and advance, but it doesn’t appear to be as much as a foregone conclusion than when the group stage kicked off three weeks ago.
Rangers were actually part of last season’s Group G – joined by Villarreal, Rapid Wien and Spartak Moscow – which seemed to have similar results up to the end of the group stage. The table was constantly shifting, with a different club on top after every matchday, and the final day kicked off with all clubs having a chance of making it through if it continued to be as tumultuous as the preceding five matches. Villarreal and Rapid Wien entered Matchday 6 with 7 points each, while Rangers had 6 points and Spartak Moscow had 5. The final day ended going up as expected, with the top two clubs winning and both advancing with 10 points, but this year’s group G is shaping up to have the same tumult, at least at the moment.
A Look Ahead
Like we see in Champions League, Matchdays 3 and 4 are home-and-home series for the clubs and typically mark when a club or two will clinch a berth in the next round – or book their trip home for the season. At the moment, there are only three matchups that appear to be “close,” i.e. the clubs’ odds of victory are within ten percentage points (per FiveThirtyEight), and only the match in Belgium between KAA Gent and VfL Wolfsburg will feature the top two clubs from any group.
Other matches we are likely to be watching include Wolverhampton Wanderers heading to Bratislava against the surprise leaders of Group K, and Manchester United heading to Belgrade for a duel with Partizan for the top spot in Group L. United probably shouldn’t have drawn against AZ Alkmaar – they entered the match with nearly a 50% chance of winning – but the Dutch club has shown themselves to be especially resilient with two draws this far. Nevertheless, both English clubs remain favored in their groups – and fellow Premier League club Arsenal has all but clinched a spot in the next round from Group F – and the Red Devils can cement their favorite status by leaving Eastern Europe with a win.
Two Down, Four to Go
At the moment, there are seven clubs with over a 90% chance of advancing through to the Round of 32, with Sevilla all but guaranteed as the leader of Group A. Chances are that Matchday 3 will result with our first mathematical clinch of the competition, but with the weird locations that are often found in Europa League, anything can happen.
Either way, we’ll be watching, and expect us to preview the compelling matches along the way.
Until next time…