Padraig Whelan·21 September 2023
Padraig Whelan·21 September 2023
After the chaos of matchday one of the Champions League, attention now turns to the Europa League and Conference League.
We take a look at five things to keep an eye on from the opening round of games.
A disappointing 2022/23 season means Liverpool are back to Thursday night football.
And they are already favourites (prior to the Champions League dropouts entering) to lift the Europa League, a trophy which evaded their grasp early in Jürgen Klopp’s tenure with a final loss to – no prizes for guessing – Sevilla.
The Reds have enjoyed an excellent start to their domestic season with four wins and a draw from their five games so far and Austrian outfit LASK are unlikely to pose too many problems for their European opener.
With a tricky game against West Ham looming next weekend, don’t be surprised to see Klopp freshen things up and give opportunities to exciting youngsters like Ben Doak, who is fresh from signing a new long-term deal.
A first start could also be in the offing for deadline day arrival Ryan Gravenberch, who impressed in his brief cameo in the weekend win over Wolves.
If you haven’t been keeping up with Bayer Leverkusen this season, now is the time to start.
Get on the Xabi Alonso bandwagon before it is too late, starting with seeing how they fare against Häcken as they begin another European adventure: one which could very well end with the Spaniard hoisting the trophy aloft in Dublin next summer.
They have started the Bundesliga season in superb form and off the back of their thrilling 2-2 draw away to champions Bayern Munich last week (earning their point with an injury-time leveller), they sit top of the Bundesliga.
An attractive brand of football being overseen by an innovative coach with an exciting, young group of players makes Die Werkself a serious contender for glory this season.
They also look set to dislodge Atalanta as the darling of the neutral public.
For the first time in their history, Brighton & Hove Albion will contest a European fixture.
It is the first time in a decade that an English debutant will compete in Europe, with Wigan the last to do so after their FA Cup win – and none of the last six have lost their maiden game.
Roberto De Zerbi, now a year into the job, welcomes AEK Athens to the south coast and given his side’s impressive form, will be confident of making it a night to remember under the floodlights.
The Greek outfit have lost 10 of their last 11 in Europe (winning just one of their previous 19) and while this may be new stomping ground for Brighton, nothing about their performances of late suggest they’ll be spooked by the occasion.
Ajax-Marseille is a clash dripping in 1990s Champions League nostalgia.
They face off in rather different circumstances now though, with the Amsterdam outfit struggling under new boss Maurice Steijn, languishing 12th in the Eredivisie and coming into this Europa League showdown after a 3-1 defeat to Twente.
Things aren’t much rosier in the visitors’ camp. In fact, they’re much worse. New coach Marcelino has left after just seven games and could be joined by president Pablo Longoria and his board of directors.
After a tense and hostile meeting between club executives and fan groups on Monday in which supporters threatened ‘war’ if changes were not made, Longoria and three board members confirmed that they will take a temporary step back from their roles due to concerns about their safety.
They will not travel to the Netherlands for this one: a game in which victory is vital for both – for different reasons.
For the first time ever, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina will all have representation in the group stage of a UEFA competition.
The Faroese fairytale that is Klaksvik’s incredible run make them the headline act, entering the Conference League after a run to the Champions League third round and Europa League play-off.
Their debut comes against Slovan Bratislava on the road and despite coming from a nation with just 54,000 inhabitants (which is just marginally more than the stadium capacity of fellow Group A side Lille), they are relishing the adventure and daring to dream.
“We’ve written history,” coach Magne Hoseth insisted. “But we aren’t finished writing yet!”
Elsewhere, Iceland’s first group stage outfit are Breidablik, who face some long-haul treks to mark the occasion, while Zrinjski are flying the flag for Bosnia and Herzegovina and are rewarded with some tasty ties against Aston Villa, AZ and Legia Warsaw.