Football Features

Europa League last 16: 8 things you might have missed

By CJ Smith

Europa League last 16: 8 things you might have missed

Published: 22:29, 14 March 2024

The Europa League round-of-16 reached its conclusion on Thursday night, with eight teams booking their place in the quarter-finals.

It was a night of drama with incredible comebacks and a bucketload of goals. Read on for everything you might have missed from the evening’s action.

1. West Ham blow Freiburg away

West Ham were unlucky to leave Freiburg 1-0 down after the first leg last week, but given how this team has performed in Europe over the past 18 months, you just felt like something special was on the cards.

That was indeed the case as West Ham ripped Freiburg to shreds, opening the scoring after just nine minutes through Lucas Paqueta to set the tone, before giving us a lesson in finishing in a 5-0 win, Jarrod Bowen, Aaron Cresswell and Mohammed Kudus (twice) adding the extras. All that, despite seeing just 39% of the ball on the night.

It’s the first time West Ham have scored five goals in a European match since beating Real Madrid Castilla 5-1 way back in 1980, and the Hammers’ biggest-ever single-match European win.

2. Liverpool make history in emphatic win over Sparta

It turned out West Ham’s thrashing of Freiburg in one of the early kick-offs was just the opening act.

Liverpool already had a formidable lead over Sparta Prague after winning the opening leg 5-1 last week. But they were taking no prisoners at Anfield, racing into a 4-0 lead on the night within just 14 minutes, with Darwin Nunez, Bobby Clark, Mohamed Salah — who also provided three assists — and Cody Gakpo all getting in on the act. At 13 minutes and 22 seconds precisely, it’s the earliest a team has ever been 4-0 up in a Europa League match since the competition’s rebranding in 2009/10.

Sparta Prague managed to pull one back just before half-time, but still Liverpool weren’t done as Dominik Szoboszlai and, again, Gakpo quickly added insult to injury after the break.

6-1 on the night and 11-2 on aggregate. A demolition job from Jurgen Klopp’s men, who must be the firm favourites for this competition now.

3. Welbeck ends European wait but Brighton left with too much to do

Danny Welbeck hadn’t scored a single goal in European competition since netting for Arsenal against Sporting CP way back in 2018 prior to Thursday evening. The former England international ended that wait in style against Roma, curling a beautiful finish into the far corner in the 37th minute.

It was a strike worthy of winning any match and, indeed, it did give Brighton the victory on the night. However, they’d simply left themselves with way too much to do after the first leg in Italy last week, where they suffered a 4-0 thrashing to Daniele De Rossi’s side.

The European adventure ends for the Seagulls, but they’ll have fond memories of this Europa League run and at least go out on a high.

4. Leverkusen treble still on (just)

Bayer Leverkusen remain unbeaten across all competitions this season and the treble is still on. But quite how that is the case is anyone’s guess.

Their unbeaten run looked to be at an end in last week’s first leg against Qarabag when the Azeri side raced into a 2-0 first-half lead, only to see it wiped off in dramatic fashion by late goals from Florian Wirtz and Patrik Schick — the latter coming in second-half stoppage time.

Things became even more unbearable this time around as Qarabag once again took a 2-0 lead, but this time much later with goals in the 59th and 67th minute, incredibly either side of a red card for the visitors. Leverkusen quickly pulled one back through Jeremie Frimpong, but even the most optimistic fans — and there aren’t too many of those given this club’s tragic history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory — wouldn’t have backed their team heading into stoppage time 2-1 down on the night and 4-3 behind on aggregate.

But there’s just something different about this team under Xabi Alonso. Definitelykusen? NeverInDoubtKusen? Whatever, they’re surely not ‘Neverkusen’ anymore. It was once again Patrik Schick with the last-gasp heroics, scoring not once but twice in stoppage time to deliver an extraordinary, unlikely win for the side that is capturing the imagination of audiences around Europe right now.

It’s nights like these that make you feel like success is simply inevitable for Leverkusen this season.

5. Rangers out despite brave battle with Benfica

Rangers’ 3-2 win at Real Betis in December to finish top of their Europa League group will live long in the memory and after a 2-2 draw against Benfica in their round-of-16 first leg last week, there was real hope the Glasgow giants could forge another deep run in this competition.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. A hotly-contested return leg at Ibrox was decided by a Rafa Silva breakaway goal in the 66th minute, while Rangers just couldn’t find enough rhythm in the final third to seriously worry Benfica. That said, Philippe Clement will by no means be disappointed with what he saw from his side.

Those of a glass-half-full persuasion in the Rangers fanbase will probably tell you they’re glad to be rid of the distraction so they can focus on not blowing their two-point lead over Celtic in the Scottish title race.

6. Mohamed Salah cannot be stopped

We mentioned Salah’s assist hat-trick earlier, but it’s the Egyptian’s one goal of the night that will taste the sweetest, sealing an incredible piece of history for Liverpool.

In finding the net after 10 minutes, Salah became the first-ever player to score 20+ goals across all competitions in seven consecutive seasons for Liverpool.

There have been some incredible players to grace the Anfield turf over the years, but Salah rightly takes his place among the very best of all time. He cannot be stopped.

7. Ruben Loftus-Cheek continues Italian resurgence

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s resurgence in Italy has been well-documented and on Thursday, he kept the train rolling.

The former Chelsea man once again found himself on the score sheet for AC Milan, hitting the net in the 36th minute as the Rossoneri put Slavia Prague to the sword — not a great night for the Czech capital — 3-0 in the first half of their second leg, eventually running out 3-1 winners on the night and 7-3 on aggregate.

It’s Loftus-Cheek’s ninth goal across all competitions this season; five more than he managed in his previous four seasons combined.

An outside bet for Gareth Southgate’s England squad at the European Championships this summer? He’ll be hard to ignore in this form.

8. Every Europa League round-of-16 result

  • Rangers 0-1 Benfica (2-3)
  • Slavia Prague 1-3 AC Milan (3-7)
  • Villarreal 3-1 Marseille (3-5)
  • West Ham 5-0 Freiburg (5-1)
  • Atalanta 2-1 Sporting CP (3-2)
  • Leverkusen 3-2 Qarabag (5-4)
  • Brighton 1-0 Roma (1-4)
  • Liverpool 6-1 Sparta Prague (11-2)

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