UEFA has been relentless with its Champions League and Europa League fixtures this season. We’ve already had the privilege of witnessing two action-packed Matchdays, and, now, we’re hours from kicking off another, equally exciting round of European fixtures.
Last week, almost all Europa League teams looked a bit more settled; a little more in control of their nerves. The results weren’t satisfactory for all, of course, but we definitely got a real whiff of the action that the second-most-prestigious European club competition delivers.
This week, we’re hoping for even more drama and ruthlessness — the two most dominant flavours of this competition. Here are the five matches to look forward to on the third matchday of the UEFA Europa League.
#5 Leicester City vs SC Braga
When Leicester City won the English Premier League in 2015/16, many expected them to be one-season-wonders; to fizzle out of the limelight after a year of sky-high success. Over four years have flown by since their title celebration, and they have still, somehow, managed to keep themselves relevant.
With two Europa League group stage wins, Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City are at the top of their group and tied on points with second-placed SC Braga. A win on Thursday would not only be a massive confidence booster, but it would also give them breathing room in the competition.
#4 Arsenal vs Molde
Premier League giants, Arsenal, are also in fine shape in the UEFA Europa League, this season. Yes, it’s still early days and the group they’re in isn’t exactly the most challenging. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the consistency they’ve shown over the last two Matchdays.
The Gunners are coming into Thursday’s fixture on the back of a massive win over Manchester United in the English top-flight and would fancy themselves to get the better of Norwegian outfit, Molde.
Molde, by the way, have also picked up six points from their opening two matches and would like to do something of note at the Emirates. An exciting match seems very much on the cards.
#3 AC Milan vs Lille
Last week, AC Milan found themselves in the second position, trailing Lille on goal difference. The second Matchday favoured the Rossoneri greatly and they found it in themselves to pick up a comfortable 3-0 win over Sparta Prague.
Now, sitting proudly at the summit, they are gearing up to welcome second-placed Lille to town.
The visitors, Lille, who currently have four points from two matches, overcame a 2-0 deficit at home to bag a 2-2 stalemate against Celtic on the second Matchday.
The outcome wasn’t satisfactory, of course, but the character their display of character was noteworthy. Milan have a real match on their hands.
#2 Celtic vs Sparta Prague
Scottish Premiership giants, Celtic, have a rich history to take inspiration from. They’ve made it a habit to step up to the plate when the odds are stacked against them, and they must do the same, this season, in the Europa League.
Pitted in a group with AC Milan and Lille, it was always going to be a tough task for Celtic. However, they surely expected a little better after the opening pair of fixtures.
On the third Matchday, they’ll be hosting an out-of-form Sparta Prague at Celtic Park, looking to book their first win in Europe this season.
Sparta haven’t picked up a single European point, so far, but cannot be counted out completely; especially if they try to keep things tight at the back and play for a draw.
#1 Benfica vs Rangers
While Celtic are struggling to get a foothold in their group, another Scottish giant, Rangers, look to be in the form of their lives. Yes, it’s too early to call, and yes, they’re yet to face the biggest team of the pack, but the overall mood of the squad is definitely positive.
The Premiership leaders have complete faith in Steven Gerrard’s management and believe that great things are on the cards.
Group D leaders, Benfica, of course, are in excellent form in the competition. They aren’t exactly the best defensive unit on the planet, but their attacking flair more than makes up for it.
The clash could ultimately boil down to Benfica’s attack and Rangers’ defense, and it’d be fascinating to see how that one pans out.
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