Given the sheer weight of 72 matches in the UEFA Europa League so far, digesting them all in one sitting is a difficult task. UEFA.com picks out a few choice morsels to chew on at the halfway mark in the 2010/11 group stage.
Patrick Helmes, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Emmanuel Adebayor have all registered hat-tricks but even they would concede that the individual performance of the group stage belongs to Artjoms Rudņevs. The 22-year-old Latvian international struck twice as KKS Lech Poznań surged ahead at Juventus on Matchday 1. The Italian giants turned things around, only for Rudņevs to pop up again in the 92nd minute with a spectacular equaliser to earn a 3-3 draw.
Dramatic conclusions have been the rage, especially with a 3-3 away draw as the prize. Silvio netted five minutes into added time as Swiss second division side FC Lausanne-Sport shared six goals at AC Sparta Praha, yet that was early compared with events at FC Steaua Bucureşti on Matchday 2. Marius Lăcătuş's men raced into a 3-0 lead inside 16 minutes, then had a player sent off, and SSC Napoli slowly but surely recovered the situation. Edinson Cavani finally made it 3-3 after 98 minutes.
That was one of five draws in six games in a compact Group K, with Liverpool FC's 4-1 victory over Steaua the sole exception. The Reds' subsequent matches both ended goalless, including last week's meeting with Napoli in Italy which attracted a 52,910 crowd, the highest in the group phase. UEFA Europa League attendances are up 2,000 per game compared with this stage last season, to 19,700.
Portugal and Russia's representatives have been in fine form. Sporting Clube de Portugal, FC Porto, PFC CSKA Moskva and FC Zenit St. Petersburg have each won three out of three and possess the most productive attacks. CSKA Moskva also have the only unblemished defence and, in Seydou Doumbia, the top individual scorer with four goals, despite him missing the trip to Lausanne. The Ivory Coast international, 22, also hit three against Anorthosis Famagusta FC in the play-offs.
Jekyll and Hyde
VfB Stuttgart save their best for this competition. Domestically they have been in disarray, their worst opening to a Bundesliga season bringing an end to coach Christian Gross's tenure. The UEFA Europa League anthem inspires a transformation, however: an average of 19 shots per game and a 100% start to Group H testify to that. There is, of course, a precedent for such dualism. Club Atlético de Madrid and Fulham FC were ninth and 12th in their domestic standings when they met in last term's final.
Holders' grip loosens
Atlético have made a stuttering start to their title defence, lying third in Group B. They have at least improved since a first-night defeat at Aris Thessaloniki FC, the Greek side maintaining their proud record of never having lost at home in Europe. Aris's subsequent draw with Bayer 04 Leverkusen extended the run to 23 matches. A trip to AZ Alkmaar is similarly daunting, though FC Dynamo Kyiv became just the second team in 40 European games to come away victorious on Matchday 3.
So to Matchday 4 ...
Win next Thursday and Stuttgart, Sporting, Porto, CSKA Moskva, Zenit and unbeaten Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain FC will book places in December's round of 32 draw with two matchnights to spare. PFC CSKA Sofia, without a point or even a goal, will look on with envy, but in a season of comebacks they have a glimmer of hope at least.
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