Return of Liverpool
For Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, the Europa League can be called, albeit forgotten, but a special tournament. At the time of the arrival of the German specialist on Merseyside, the Reds were not yet the car that would later win the main trophies of both the Champions League and the Premier League. In the 2015/16 season, they were in the status of the sixth team of England and could only count on participation in the second most important club championship of the Old World. And they squeezed 99% percent out of this opportunity, immediately reaching the final. And if it weren't for the fantastic Sevilla, the coach could well have won the cup in his debut year at Anfield.
Eight years later, Liverpool again unsuccessfully performed in the national championship and was forced to drop to a lower level. But it's one thing to motivate a young and ambitious team to participate in the LE, it's another thing to motivate a team of stars that recently reigned in Europe. Therefore, the guest confrontation with LASK could have turned out to be much more unpredictable than it should have been.
And these fears were confirmed already in the 14th minute, when the Austrians took the lead. When drawing a corner, Florian Flekker was left all alone at the edge of the penalty area and hammered the ball into the far corner with a powerful blow from the flight. Perhaps Ederson would have been able to help out, but Kevin Kelleher could not do it.
Liverpool went into the break with a score of 0: 1, but this only provoked the guests. For the entire second half, the English allowed LASK to earn only 0.04 expected goals, while they themselves doubled the plan of 1.46 xG. Nunez still scored (albeit from the penalty spot), Luis Diaz brought the team forward, and Mohamed Salah, who refused to move to Saudi Arabia (3: 1), put an end. And he extended his phenomenal streak. This season, the Egyptian has not yet left the field without scoring a goal or an assist (3 + 4).
Liverpool itself won the fifth match in a row - only Chelsea managed to take away points from him in the opening round of the Premier League, after which Bournemouth, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton fell alternately. And he helped Klopp set another club record. He became the first coach of the "reds" in history, who won 50 victories with them in European competitions.
Failures of "Brighton" and "Aston Villa"
But if Liverpool managed to confirm the status of the favorite, then its rivals in the Premier League suffered a crushing fiasco. And it's hard to say whose one has become more unexpected. On the one hand, the vaunted Brighton is now very highly valued in Foggy Albion and was almost included among the top clubs, on the other hand, Aston Villa also looks great this season, and its opponent was a little lower level. One way or another, AEK and Legia created incredible sensations and not only took away points from their counterparts, but even prevailed.
To the surprise of many, the Greeks did not hesitate at the crowded stadium "Falmer - Ze Amex" and fought on equal terms with the opponent. And even if the statistics of expected goals (1.05 - 2.5) are not misleading, the superiority of the British was not so significant. This difference was primarily due to the two penalties awarded to Cichan Stankovic, which were converted by Joao Pedro. True, they helped Brighton only to restore parity and respond to the filigree execution of the guests' standards. First, Djibril Sidibé, known for his performances for Monaco, closed the corner kick, and then Mijat Gačinović scored after a free kick.
The denouement came six minutes before the end of normal time. And it is all the more remarkable that everything was decided by a single ball from the game. Its author was Ezequiel Ponce, well known to Spartak fans, who ended up in AEK in transit through Elche. It was he who first responded to a long throw from his half of the field, and then gently rolled past Jason Steele, who left the target (3: 2). And spoiled the mood of James Milner. He became the first Englishman to represent five different clubs in European competitions.
The confrontation between Legia and Aston Villa ended with the same score. Moreover, even the course of the meeting was the same - the nominal favorite won back twice, but was still forced to admit surrender. There were other similarities. For example, the Poles scored the first two goals in a similar manner - in a purely English style, they broke through the flanks and shot along the penalty area. But if in the first case the role of the scorer is exemplified by Pavel Wsholek, then in the second - Ernesto Muchi.
John Durán, who worked on the finishing line, and Luca Digne, who superbly shot into the far nine, gave the Villans hope, but the same Muchi dotted the i's. This time, the 22-year-old Albanian did not use his partners and did everything himself - he went into the penalty area and put the ball right under the post with a billiard kick. Unai Emery's men had 39 minutes left to rectify the situation, but this time was not enough.
The English teams were also accompanied by Villarreal, which unexpectedly lost to Panathinaikos (0: 2). And he did it meekly. For the entire match, the Spaniards only shot four times on goal and earned only 0.28 xG - three times less than the opponent (0.88). There was simply no chance to respond to the accurate "shots" of Fotis Ioannidis and Andraž Šporar.
One of the most action-packed matches of the day took place in Mostar, where the relationship was sorted out by representatives of the E Europa Conference League quartet - Zrinjski and AZ. The favorite was known. Last season, the Dutch stopped one step away from the final of the tournament and were beaten only by the future triumphant - West Ham. While the Bosnians have never reached the group stage of European competitions so far. With difficulty, they overcame this bar this time. They finished their performance in the Champions League qualification at the stage of the second round, losing to Slovan, and in the playoffs for a ticket to the Champions League they were beaten by LASK.
The first half did not bode well for the hosts. Already in the tenth minute, they allowed the guests to open the scoring, and went into the break with the score 0:3. Moreover, AZ scored all three goals without much stress. Myron van Brederode scored after a cross from the flank, Sven Meynans worked without any problems on the finish, and Dani de Wit entered the penalty area without resistance and left Marko Marić out of work.
It seemed that the second half would turn into a formality. However, hope was given to the hosts by the goalkeeper of the guests Matthew Ryan. The Australian "fell asleep" on target and allowed Zvenomir Kozhulzh to score with a direct free-kick. Although he was appointed at least 30 meters from the goal and almost at the sideline.
In an amicable way, this event was supposed to be a wake-up call for AZ and force its players to go forward with renewed vigor and calmly take the points due to them. But Pascal Jansen's wards could not get together, and then experienced one of the worst 13-minute segments in recent times. First, the same Ryan made a mistake after Josip Corluka's shot, and then Aldin Hrvanovich and the same Kozhulzh, who scored a double, took advantage of their chances. The Alkmaar team were so discouraged that they were not even honored with the final assault, giving three points to Zrinjski (3: 4) without a fight. The 194th team in the UEFA rankings defeated the 34th, creating the main sensation of the day.
Extravaganza in Amsterdam
A comparable meeting took place in the capital of the Netherlands, where Ajax and Marseille scored six goals for two. And if this surprised few people, then the fierce resistance from the guests came as a surprise. Currently, the French club is going through hard times and is at the epicenter of a scandal, which is why it has already lost its coach, and may soon change leaders. But despite this, the Provençals gave a real fight and still snatched a draw (3: 3).
The confrontation turned out to be super open and exciting. The opponents completely forgot about the defense and began to hit each other's goal from all sorts of positions. In total, they made 38 shots, worked on 4.93 xG and scored four times in the first half. The goals of Carlos Borges and Stephen Berghuis were answered by Jonathan Kloss and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In the second, if the teams slowed down, then not much. And again, Marseille was forced to catch up - this time Borges acted as an assistant, and Kenneth Taylor became the finisher. However, Aubameyang again reminded why a couple of years ago he was considered a top striker, and superbly shot after being displaced from the flank. And if Silvano Vos had retired a little earlier than the 91st minute, the guests could well have snatched victory. But there was not enough time.
Kokorin's goal and Miranchuk's creativity
In the absence of Russian teams, all the attention of the fans was focused on domestic legionnaires playing for European teams. And they did not hit the dirt with their faces. Yes, Atalanta midfielder Alexei Miranchuk appeared on the field only during the second half of the match with Raków (2-0) and did not score any goals. But he was very useful and created three chances for partners, thanks to which he earned a rating of 7.0 from the FotMob portal. However, the main character of the evening was Alexander Kokorin.
Once the main talent of Russian football, he converted a penalty kick in the 11th minute and brought Aris ahead in the meeting with Sparta. And for Kokorin himself, this event became extremely important. After all, the last time he scored in European competitions was almost five years ago. In October 2018, he hit the gates of another Prague team, Slavia, and helped Zenit prevail in the group stage of the same Europa League (1: 0).
However, this time his partners could not keep three points. By the time Kokorin went to rest, Aris was already losing 1: 3, and subsequently managed to reduce the gap only a little. At the end of regular time, Shavi Babik upset Peter Vindal-Jensen and slightly sweetened the pill to the Cypriots (2:3). But no more.