Thursday night football is often laughed at, with fans mocking rivals for playing in the Europa League. But there is always action.
It was no different this week with 15 Europa League matches across the two time slots bringing 49 goals at an average of 3.2 per game. The likes of Manchester United, Roma, Real Betis and Union Berlin were all in action and only someone with a TV screen set up akin to Lucius Fox/Morgan Freeman in the Dark Knight would be able to follow every game. And even he’d probably miss something.
That’s where we come in. Below we’ve picked out seven big talking points and moments from last night’s Europa League action.
1. Ronaldo breaks Europa League “duck”
Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave Manchester United this summer as the Red Devils had failed to qualify for the Champions League. The Portuguese forward is almost synonymous with the Champions League, winning the competition five times and being its all-time top goalscorer.
But he was unable to find a Champions League club willing to take him in and remained at Man Utd to contest the Europa League. Ronaldo isn’t used to playing in the Europa League (or Uefa Cup) but did make his debut in the competition in September 2002, coming off the bench in Sporting CP’s 3-1 defeat to Partizan Belgrade.
Twenty years on and Ronaldo has finally scored his first Europa League goal. In reality, those 20 years span just four matches, two for Sporting and two for Man Utd – getting two of his three starts this season in the Europa League. And after Jadon Sancho opened the scoring against Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday evening, Cristiano Ronaldo doubled Man Utd’s advantage from the penalty spot just before half time to help secure their first Europa League win of the season.
Sheriff are the 124th side Ronaldo has scored against in all competitions across his career with it also being his 699th club goal. How long will he have to wait until 700?
Cristiano Ronaldo's game by numbers vs Sheriff:
89% passing accuracy in final third
5 final third entries
4 touches in opp. box
2 possession won
1 foul won
— Squawka (@Squawka) September 15, 2022
2. Real Sociedad secure best European start since 2003
The other game in Man Utd’s group saw Real Sociedad take on Omonia looking to preserve their perfect start after leaving Old Trafford with a 1-0 victory last week. La Real were given a tough game against the Cypriot side and had sub Alexander Sorloth to thank for their 2-1 victory, with the former Crystal Palace netting the winner in the 80th minute.
The victory saw Real Sociedad win their first two games of the season in a European competition for the first time since 2003/04 when they started the Champions League with victories over Olympiacos and Galatasaray. But Imanol Alguacil will be hoping they can fare better this year as in 2003/04 those two wins were Real Sociedad’s only two of the group stage and they went out in the round of 16 to Lyon.
3. Lazio arrogance has Sarri doubting future
Lazio have been up and down in Serie A this season, winning three, drawing two and losing one of their opening six matches to sit seventh. They’ve beaten Inter but lost to Napoli and did open the Europa League with a 4-2 victory over Feyenoord, laying the gauntlet down to the rest of the group that Maurizio Sarri may have a second Europa League winner’s medal in his sights.
Or so it seemed. Lazio will have been favourites going into their second game against Danish side Midtjylland who were beaten by Sturm Graz in their Europa League opener last week, unable to make the most of their possession. But Midtjylland experienced the opposite on Thursday night, thrashing Lazio 5-1 despite having 35.3% possession, with Evander thriving in particular, scoring once and providing two assists.
FC Midtjylland have scored five goals in a European game (excluding qualifiers) for the first ever time. ??
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 15, 2022
The defeat was the fourth time Lazio have conceded at least five goals in a single match in UEFA competitions, and first since 2000 when they were beaten 5-2 by Valencia in the Champions League. After the game Sarri spoke of an “immense arrogance and presumption” from his team, and later threw his future into doubt by adding: “These sudden emotional collapses are similar to last year. It’s difficult to understand the motivation. I need to work out, if it’s me who has to take a step back, or a player who needs to leave.”
4. Feyenoord thrash Sturm Graz to open up Group F
We’re sticking with Lazio’s group for a moment to look at how Feyenoord bounced back from their 4-2 defeat last week. Arne Slot’s side will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages and possibly winning the group, so losing to Lazio will have been a blow, but they took their frustration out on Sturm Graz.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh gave Feyenoord the lead after just nine minutes to set the tone for the match, with the Dutch side 4-0 up by half-time. Two more goals were added in the second half to secure Feyenoord’s biggest win in European competition since September 1995 when they beat Metalurgs Liepaja by the same scoreline.
The victory also means the group is beautifully even after two gameweeks with all four teams tied on three points.
5. Home comforts help Roma get off mark
Roma were shocked by Ludogorets last week, beaten 2-1 by Ludogorets in Jose Mourinho’s return to the Europa League having led the Italian club to Europa Conference League glory last season. But at home in Europe Roma are a different beast.
Taking on Finnish side HJK Helsinki, Roma were made to work hard in the first half but eventually pulled through with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Paulo Dybala, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Andrea Belotti. While Roma remain third right now, below Ludogorets on their head-to-head record, the Giallorossi extended their unbeaten run at home in Europe to 20 matches.
During that run, Roma have won 14 matches and drawn six including qualifiers, with Real Madrid the last away team to beat the Giallorossi with a 2-0 win in the 2018/19 Champions League group stage
6. Joaquin writes history
Cristiano Ronaldo may have scored his first Europa League goal aged 37, but he isn’t anywhere near the oldest goalscorer in the competition’s history. Not by a long shot, and he wasn’t even the oldest goalscorer in this gameweek.
That honour falls on Joaquin, yes that Joaquin. The Spaniard, aged 41 and 56 days, found the net in Real Betis’ win over Ludogorets and in doing so became the oldest ever goalscorer in Europa League/Uefa Cup history. His goal moved Daniel Hestad out of the history books, with the Norwegian being a sprightly 40 years and 98 days when he scored for Molde in November 2015.
And don’t bet against Joaquin extending his own record with more goals this season.
41 – @joaquinarte ?? (41 years, 56 days) has become the older player to score in UEFA Cup/@EuropaLeague history (since 1971/72), overpassing Daniel Hestad ??, who netted with Molde in November 2015 aged at 40 years and 98 days. Long-lived. #UEL pic.twitter.com/EamP3sJXny
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 15, 2022
7. Union Berlin’s European pains
There is a surprise team at the top of the Bundesliga after six weeks with Union Berlin currently leading the way, winning four and drawing twice to sit one point clear of Freiburg. While the position isn’t expected to last, it shows Union’s remarkable growth over the past few years having only gained promotion ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
A seventh-placed finish in their second season brought Europa Conference League football, with Union finishing third in their group, but this year they have stepped up to the Europa League. Unfortunately, at the moment, it appears to be a step too far.
Union were beaten 1-0 by Royal Union Saint-Gilloise in their Europa League opener last week and have followed that by with another 1-0 defeat, this time to Braga. Already six points behind the top two, Union will be looking at gaining points from their Malmo double-header to at least put them in a good position for the Europa Conference League.