The first day of the UEFA Europa League group stage did not disappoint as goals rained down across Europe on Thursday. While tournament favorites like Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen earned all-important wins to open their group stage campaigns, matchday one provided a huge slate of competitive matches that meant few victories were straightforward -- and supplied a few upsets along the way.
Here are some takeaways from Thursday's action.
- LASK 1, Liverpool 3
- Union St. Gilloise 1, Toulouse 3
- Panathinaikos 2, Villarreal 0
- Rennes 3, Maccabi Haifa 0
- Sheriff 1, Roma 2
- Servette 0, Slavia Prague 2
- Leverkusen 4, Hacken 0
- Qarabag 1, Molde 0
- Olympiacos 2, Freiburg 3
- West Ham 3, Backa Topola 1
- Ajax 3, Marseille 3
- Brighton 2, AEK Athens 3
- Rangers 1, Real Betis 0
- Sparta Prague 3, Limassol 2
- Atalanta 2, Rakow Czestochowa 0
- Sturm Graz 1, Sporting CP 2
Bayer Leverkusen look legit
If any team can say they made a major statement on matchday one of the Europa League, it's Bayer Leverkusen. Last season's semifinalists cruised to a 4-0 victory over Sweden's BK Hacken on Thursday and were notably prolific in front of goal. They had 22 shots, 10 of which were on goal, and outperformed their expected goals tally of 2.73. The win sets the tone nicely for a team expected to top Group H, which also includes Azerbaijan's Qarabag and Norway's Molde.
The win does not just bolster Leverkusen's case for a deep run in this season's Europa League, but perhaps serves as a sign that big things are to come for the German side. The team is also unbeaten in Bundesliga play, sits joint top of the table with Bayern Munich and drew the reigning champions 2-2 just last week. It may be early days in the European season, but Xabi Alonso's side could be serious contenders in all competitions. Don't sleep on them.
Not a great day for English clubs
The scorelines of Liverpool's 3-1 win over LASK Linz and West Ham's 3-1 win over Backa Topola may come as no surprise, but it was not a straightforward outing for either side on Thursday. Both came from behind to secure victory on opening day but struggled at times. Liverpool's performance can be attributed to the fact that Jurgen Klopp chose to rotate, but a handful of West Ham's first choice team were wasteful at times up top. They had 23 shots but landed just eight on target and produced 1.62 expected goals.
Both Liverpool and West Ham, though, fared better than fellow English side Brighton and Hove Albion. The Seagulls were the favorites to win their first-ever game in European competition but eventually lost 3-2 to AEK Athens thanks to a handful of defensive mistakes. Brighton came from behind twice but were unable to rebound from Athens' third, which saw the Greek side pick up their first win over English competition since 1977 and go top of Group B.
Goals galore in Amsterdam
Though the Europa League provided plenty of entertainment, few games were as thrilling as Ajax's 3-3 draw with Marseille. The matchup between two storied European sides was all about goals from the ninth minute when Ajax's Carlos Borges opened the scoring. Steven Berghuis gave his side a 2-0 lead in the 20th minute, but Marseille were level by the 38th minute after Jonathan Clauss and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored.
Ajax took the lead in the 52nd minute through Kenneth Taylor only for Aubameyang to notch the equalizer in the 78th minute. As if six goals were not enough entertainment, the match also delivered a red card for Ajax's Silvano Vos, who will now miss his side's game at AEK Athens.
Both teams also traded 38 shots over the course of the match, 25 of which belonged to Marseille. The two were nearly level on expected goals, though -- Ajax stood at 2.82 by the end of the match, while Marseille were at 2.12.