Europa League

Europa League Top Five, Matchday One: Saka an Arsenal star, Zaniolo making waves

Basel and Ludogorets rack up big wins while it's a bad night for goalkeepers

 
2:39pm on Friday 20th September 2019
By
Paul Macdonald

The Europa League is back and arguably has more interesting teams competing in it than ever before.

Roma put up an eye-catching display to hand Basaksehir their worst ever European defeat, Man Utd struggled to a win over Astana, while Ludogorets, Basel and surprise package Wolfsberger recorded massive wins.

Partizan ultimately failed to defeat the ten men of AZ, thanks in no small part to the ability of the Dutch side's front two of Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu, but from an AMC position Natcho put up some top-class numbers in attempting to drag his team to victory. As well as coolly converting a penalty, his superb strike in the second half briefly had his side in front. H then created two big chances for team-mates which weren't converted, made 44 passes into the final third, completed 85/96 passes (88%) from an advanced position, and generally did everything possible to get his team over the line.

Arguably the most eye-catching result of the round, Ludogorets were 1-0 down at half-time but responded to whatever was said in the dressing room with a blistering second-half streak of goals. Keseru was at the heart of the action. His first goal was a quite stunning volley from outside the area, fizzing into the far corner, his second swept home with supreme confidence following a cutback, and his third, a slotted penalty to complete the rout.

In a thrilling clash with Besiktas, Sporar was by far the most effective player on the pitch, causing Besiktas no end of players and leading the line with superb efficiency. After exploiting an error from the hapless Loris Karius to slot home the opener, He almost scored a vintage solo goal, cutting in from the left and curling just wide of the post. Not to be denied, with his side 2-1 down he drilled home a brilliant equaliser, before flicking to team-mate Ljubicic to knock home the clincher.

Krasnodar had been a solid competitor in the Europa League last season, but here Basel completely dismantled them, with Kevin Bua at the heart of things. The left winger's first goal was all his own work, intercepting a pass before gliding towards goal and dinking home beautifully. And his second was equally as impressive, lobbing the advancing Safonov for number two. 14 touches inside the area - double the next player and a high total for a winger - highlights how the Russians just couldn't deal with him.

Arsenal, you could have a star on your hands in Bukayo Saka. Martin Keown declared him 'already better than Pepe', who cost £72m, remember, and here he blitzed a solid Frankfurt team. He provided Joe Willock for the opener then finished brilliantly himself to seal the game. He then laid on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to seal the rout. It couldn't have gone better for the 18-year-old. Let's see how many minutes he gets.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

It's hardly a secret any more, but Roma they are on to a sure thing in Nicolas Zaniolo (9.0), who once again showcased his emerging talent, this time in the rout of Basaksehir. Two assists, including a gift for Edin Dzeko, were rounded off by a superbly composed slot into the far corner. He also completed an incredible 10 dribbles in the contest - the Turks just couldn't handle him, and it's little wonder there's a queue around the block to capture the 20-year-old's services.

Fred (9.0) had a rare - but rather positive - outing for Man Utd, the standout despite their inability to break down a stubborn Astana side, while Luxembourg champions Dudelange recorded one of the best results in their history, winning 4-3 in APOEL thanks to Daniel Sinani's (9.1) two goals and an assist.

ROUND TO FORGET

For, mostly, goalkeepers. Igor Akinfeev's (3.8) late-career decline continues as he threw one into the net and conceded a penalty as CSKA Moscow were thrashed by Ludogorets.

On-loanLiverpool keeper Loris Karius (4.8) continues to drop clangers, now at Besiktas, after inexplicably running from his line only to miss the ball completely as his side lost to Slovan Bratislava

Elsewhere there equal clangers from Gent's Thomas Kaminski (4.8) - this one has to be seen to be believed - as well as Ferencvaros' Denes Dibusz, who, in fairness, had an otherwise superb game against Espanyol.

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