Europa League takeaways: Barcelona let down, Atalanta excite, Rangers roll, eight-goal thriller in UECL, more

The round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League is underway with some unique circumstances as RB Leipzig get an automatic bye into the last eight as a result of Spartak Moscow being suspended from all UEFA competitions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Aside from that tie, the majority of the rest on Thursday played their first leg which brought us some surprises. None were bigger than Barcelona being held to a 0-0 draw at home against Galatasaray with Xavi’s side being bailed out by a late offside call on Bafétimbe Gomis.

Barcelona held 68 percent possession and rattled off 15 shots for an xG of 1.61, with Galatasaray earning a puncher’s chance to advance in their home stadium despite a paltry 0.2 xG from three shots. Rangers, meanwhile, scored the most goals in a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Red Star to keep their prolific attacking pace going after defeating Dortmund by an aggregate score of 6-4 in the last round.

Europa League results

Porto 0, Lyon 1
Real Betis 1, Eintracht Frankfurt 2

Sevilla 1, West Ham 0
Rangers 3, Red Star 0
Braga 2, Monaco 0
Barcelona 0, Galatasaray 0
Atalanta 3, Bayer Leverkusen 2

Match of the Day: Atalanta-Leverkusen in five-goal thriller

This tie had all the scoring needed as these two met for the first time in a European competition. After falling out of Champions League and lagging behind in Serie A, Atalanta are on a mission to win the Europa League in order to secure access into Champions League next season. Leverkusen didn’t make things easy in the opening leg. 

Charles Aranguiz opened the scoring with a lovely team goal highlighted by a Florian Wirtz assist, but Atalanta struck back quickly with two goals in as many minutes. Ruslan Malinovskyi scored their opener from a Luis Muriel assist before they reversed roles as Malinovskyi assisted Muriel on the second. It looked as if Atalanta were off and running when Malinovskyi again found his favorite target Muriel after the half to go up by two goals.

Moussa Diaby pulled Bayer Leverkusen within one goal in the 63rd minute despite Atalanta’s calls for a foul in the buildup that saw Rafael Toloi enter the book. Each team could’ve scored more goals as the keepers came up with excellent saves. The second leg at Allianz Arena has all the makings of an exciting clash.

Biggest Disappointment: No goals in Barcelona-Galatasaray

Always a competition for surprises, this was a match that was considered to be the most lopsided of the slate. Galatasaray are closer to relegation in the Turkish league than they are to qualifying for the Champions League next season. Barcelona have been one of the best teams in La Liga under Xavi’s reign. Frenkie de Jong lashed a chance off the woodwork that Barcelona thought would be the winner but the post was there to deny them. The one shot which was started by an overhead kick from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang summed up their day pretty well.

Galatasaray keeper Iñaki Peña, who’s on loan from Barcelona, had a good day in net against his parent club, making four saves and two punches as he anticipated what the Barcelona attackers were planning. Domenec Torrent’s side didn’t see much of the ball on the day but they didn’t need to as Taylan Antalyali was there to break up the Barcelona attacks. The defensive midfielder had a match-high 12 recoveries and was able to ensure that his possessions weren’t wasted completing almost 90 percent of his passes. Barcelona didn’t want this match to hang in the balance heading to Turkey but now the second leg becomes quite a tricky tie.

Goal of the day: Luis Sinisterra, Feyenoord

Coming to us from the knockouts of the Conference League, Sinisterra capped off a match that saw a total of seven goals hit the back of the net with the best of the bunch. He also had two assists on the day as Feyenoord defeated Partizan by a score of five to two.

Silver medal goal: Munir El Haddadi, Sevilla

It was a tight affair as Sevilla edged West Ham 1-0, but this great set play delivery had Alphonse Areola stunned that a shot was coming from that direction.

Player of the day: Ruslan Malinovskyi, Atalanta

Helping orchestrate a high-powered Atalanta attack, scoring a goal and assisting two more while getting off five shots will go a long way. The Ukrainian-born midfielder created four chances on the day and also completed three of his six attempted take ons, opening space for his fellow attackers. Playing under an unimaginable amount of pressure due to the situation in his homeland, Malinovskyi has channeled that into impressive performances on the field both in Serie A and Europe.

Top Conference League moment: PSV, Copenhagen produce eight goals

Who does not like to see eight goals in a match/ This one did not disappoint as Ísak Jóhannesson opened the score sheet for Copenhagen only six minutes in. PSV got an equalizer from Cody Gakpo in the 21st minute but Copenhagen didn’t let it last long, scoring in the 22nd minute via Pep Biel. Lukas Lerager used the Danish side’s momentum to his advantage as he got in on the scoring party with a goal of his own in the 43rd minute before the halftime whistle. 

Not happy with the performance, PSV’s German coach Roger Schmidt made a double change at the half: Joey Veerman and Noni Madueke went off in exchange for Erran Zahavi and Ritsu Doan. Doan rewarded Schmidt’s tactical decision by scoring five minutes after entering the game. PSV had a chance to equalize after Peter Ankersen brought down Philipp Max in the penalty area in the 61st minute, but Gakpo saw his penalty saved in the bottom corner by Kamil Grabara. Gakpo made up for it by scoring in the 70th minute before Beil put Copenhagen back ahead in the 78th. Finally, 85 minutes into the match, Zahavi scored a dramatic equalizer after Gakpo’s cross into the box met his head for the equalizer to secure a 4-4 draw. More of that in the next leg, please.

Europa Conference League results

Partizan 2, Feyenoord 5
Slavia Praha 4, LASK 1
Vitesse 0, Roma 1
PAOK 1, Gent 0
PSV 4, Copenhagen 4
Bodo/Glimt 2, AZ Alkmaar 1
Leicester City 2, Rennes 0
Marseille 2, Basel 1

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