Now that the UEFA Europa League group stage has reached its halfway mark, UEFA.com rounds up the highlights and curiosities from the opening 72 matches of the 2011/12 competition.
RSC Anderlecht have made an excellent start in Group L and have in their ranks the scorer of the only hat-trick in this season's group stage. Matías Suárez hit three against AEK Athens FC on matchday one and is the competition's five-goal leading marksman after also registering against FC Lokomotiv Moskva and SK Sturm Graz. The 23-year-old has two strikes more than FC Vaslui's Wesley, Hélder Barbosa of SC Braga, Fulham FC's Andrew Johnson and Dmitri Sychev of Lokomitiv.
FC Twente are the competition's highest-scoring side, banging in nine in three games, including four apiece against Wisła Kraków and Odense BK. The Dutch team have also had more shots on target (27) than any other side. The meanest defence belongs to R. Standard de Liège who are the only club yet to concede, although they have netted in just one match themselves – the 3-0 win against FC København.
Udinese Calcio have scored all bar one of their five Group I goals in the last ten minutes of games. Pablo Armero's 83rd-minute effort earned a 2-1 home victory over Stade Rennais FC, Almen Abdi converted an 88th-minute penalty to secure a 1-1 draw at Celtic FC, before strikes in the 88th and 94th minutes from Medhi Benatia and Antonio Floro Flores clinched a 2-0 home win against Club Atlético de Madrid. Francesco Guidolin's men like to leave it late; however, not even they can match Birmingham City FC, who notched ten minutes into added time through Chris Wood to beat Club Brugge KV 2-1 in Belgium in Group H.
Three clubs have 100% records: Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven head Groups L and C respectively but are trumped by Sporting Clube de Portugal who became the first team ever to qualify for the competition's round of 32 after just three group games. Having conquered FC Zürich, S.S. Lazio and Lazio in Group D, the Lions have confirmed qualification thanks to all the other fixtures ending level.
There have been 26 red cards, with Paris Saint-Germain FC and FC Steaua Bucureşti each receiving three. Romeo Surdu of FC Rapid Bucureşti lasted the shortest time on the pitch before his dismissal, appearing as an 80th-minute substitute in the matchday one triumph at Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC before being marched down the tunnel in the 90th. FC Metalist Kharkiv, meanwhile, showed particularly strong resolve on matchday three, recovering from Jonathan Cristaldo's 37th-minute sending-off at 1-1 to defeat Malmö FF 4-1.
Things are looking good for the five former winners of the UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League in this year's tournament. Tottenham Hotspur FC (1971/72 and 1983/84), FC Schalke 04 (1996/97), Anderlecht (1982/83) and PSV (1977/78) all lead their groups while 2009/10 champions Club Atlético de Madrid are second in Group I behind Udinese. There is hope for the rest, though, as seven of the last ten clubs to lift the trophy have done so for the first time.
Matchday four successes for Tottenham, Udinese and Anderlecht will book their places in the round of 32 with two games to spare. Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers FC, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Malmö and AEK Athens will attempt to post their first points and give themselves a chance of booking an unlikely place in the knockout phase.
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