While some were out celebrating Valentine’s Day, Thursday evening brought the return of the Europa League, with the round-of-32 first legs underway.

It saw the arrival of eight new teams dropping down from the Champions League with the likes of Valencia and Benfica joining Chelsea and Arsenal.

Unlike the Champions League this season where two games were played per day, all 32 teams were in action spread across 16 matches in two time slots.

So naturally, a lot went on which may have slipped past even the keenest eye. Fortunately, we here at Squawka have got you cover.

Read on to see what you might have missed from Thursday’s Europa League action.

1. Lautaro Martinez marks Europa League debut with a goal

Inter Milan were one of this season’s eight casualties from the Champions League group stages to have been given a second chance of European football via the Europa League.

The three-time Uefa Cup champions are in Europa League for the first time since 2016/17 where they bowed out at the group stages.

But they got off to a better start this time around with a narrow 1-0 win over Rapid Vienna away from home, putting them in good stead ahead of next week’s second leg at the San Siro.

That goal came from young striker Lautaro Martinez, leading the line in the place of Mauro Icardi who reportedly refused to travel having been stripped of the club’s captaincy.

It was his second goal in two games for Inter, scoring in consecutive matches for the first time at the club. But it also brought up his first Europa League goal on his competition debut.

Who needs Icardi, right?

2. Ben Yedder joins Messi

Sevilla may have been cursing their luck when drawn against relatively tough opponents in Lazio for the last-32 of the Europa League.

But Wissam Ben Yedder’s 22nd-minute away goal was enough to put the Spanish side in control of the tie.

Ben Yedder has been in fine form for Sevilla this season, playing a large role in the club’s quest for the top four and possible Europa League glory.

The Frenchman’s goal against Lazio brought his 20th in all competitions this season, just the second player for a La Liga team to do so. The only other player to do so, storming ahead on 29, is Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

3. Real Betis’ dramatic comeback

A game between two sides languishing in mid-table in their respective leagues may not have looked to be a thriller on paper, but Real Betis and Rennes put in a match to remember.

The French side got off to a great start, taking a 2-0 lead after just 10 minutes through Adrien Hunou and a Javi Garcia own goal. Giovani Lo Celso managed to pull one back but Hatem Ben Arfa’s penalty just before half-time looked to have ended the game and potentially the tie.

But clearly, Real Betis hadn’t read the script. Quique Setien’s men kept fighting and pressing their hosts with Sidnei pulling a goal back after an hour.

Even then it looked as though Betis would fall to defeat, until Diego Lainez scored in the 90th minute to put Setien level and with three away goals stored going into the second leg.

Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel: sqwk.at/Squawka-Sub

4. Diego Lainez starts Spain’s 2000 club

Lainez’s late equaliser against Betis was monumental enough on its own, giving his side a slight advantage in the tie. But it was also the 18-year-old’s first goal in European competition.

Not alive to experience the fears of Y2K, Lainez became the first 2000-born player to score in European competition for a Spanish club. A fine feat for the youngster now etched in the history, and possibly Spanish trivia books for years to come.

5. Eintracht Frankfurt’s European run continues

You just don’t stop Eintracht Frankfurt scoring in European competitions.

Shakhtar Donetsk was once a tough place for European opponents to go, with the Ukrainian side having previously made the Donbass Arena a fortress.

But that all changed with the club forced to move away from their home due to war in Donbass, currently taking up residence at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv.

And it took Frankfurt just seven minutes to break down Shakhtar’s defence with Martin Hinteregger breaking through to head in Sebastian Rode’s free-kick.

It brought the 18th consecutive game in which Eintracht Frankfurt have scored in European competitions, a run stretching back to November 2006.

The last team to prevent the German side from scoring was Newcastle United who held Frankfurt to a goalless draw. Current Aston Villa coach Shay Given was the man in goal that evening.

6. Jose Callejon finds his European shooting boots once more

Napoli were so close to reaching the last-16 of the Champions League, needing just one goal in their final group game against Liverpool to advance in place of their opponents.

But it was not meant to be, and Carlo Ancelotti’s men were demoted to the Europa League knockout stages and drawn against Swiss side Zurich.

Napoli’s downfall was their lack of goalscoring, managing just seven in six games. However, they grabbed two in the first 22 minutes against Zurich through Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.

While Insigne had managed three in the Champions League, Callejon was scoring his first in European competition this season.

Having failed to find the net in 504 Champions League minutes, it took the Spaniard just 21 to get on the scoresheet in Switzerland, also bringing just his second goal of the season.

7. Champions League sides rule the roost

The fact that sides who finish third in their Champions League groups get a second chance in the Europa League knockout stages does not sit well with many fans.

With the Europa League often filled with teams from smaller countries on lesser budgets, the Champions League rejects can get an easy ride en route to the latter stages of the competition.

And the same looks to be on the cards this season.

Of the eight teams to have been demoted from the Champions League group stage, just one ended the night in defeat.

That was Turkish side Galatasaray who were given a tough draw against fellow ex-Champions League team Benfica, with the Portuguese team edging the tie 2-1.

Shakhtar Donetsk were the only other ex-Champions League side not to win, being held to a 2-2 draw against the promising Eintracht Frankfurt.

But there were wins for Napoli, Valencia, Inter, Viktoria Plzen, Club Brugge and the aforementioned Benfica, ensuring there is a good chance that seven of the last 16 teams come next week will be Champions League drop outs.

Source link – http://www.squawka.com/en/news/ben-yedder-joins-barcelonas-finest-the-europa-league-action-you-might-have-missed/1081989