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UEFA Europa League: What to look out for on Matchday 1

The leaner 32-team group stage kicked off on Wednesday but begins in earnest on Thursday; get ready for action.

Mesut Özil (Fenerbahçe), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and Saïd Benrahma (West Ham)
Mesut Özil (Fenerbahçe), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and Saïd Benrahma (West Ham) Getty Images

The 2021/22 UEFA Europa League is getting under way this week with 32 teams aiming for the final in Seville.

UEFA.com picks out some sure-fire headline-makers for Matchday 1.

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Wednesday 15 September
Group C
: Spartak Moskva 0-1 Legia Warszawa

Thursday 16 September
Group A: Rangers vs Lyon (21:00 CET), Brøndby vs Sparta Praha (21:00 CET)
Group B
: PSV Eindhoven vs Real Sociedad (21:00 CET), Monaco vs Sturm Graz (21:00 CET)
Group C
: Leicester vs Napoli (21:00 CET)
Group D
: Olympiacos vs Royal Antwerp (21:00 CET), Eintracht Frankfurt vs Fenerbahçe (21:00 CET)
Group E
: Galatasaray vs Lazio (18:45 CET), Lokomotiv Moskva vs Marseille (18:45 CET)
Group F
: Midtjylland vs Ludogorets (18:45 CET), Crvena zvezda vs Braga (18:45 CET)
Group G
: Leverkusen vs Ferencváros (18:45 CET), Real Betis vs Celtic (18:45 CET)
Group H: GNK Dinamo vs West Ham (18:45 CET), Rapid Wien vs Genk (18:45 CET)

What to look out for?

Top ten Europa League goals of 2020/21
Top ten Europa League goals of 2020/21

Group(s) of death?
The new UEFA Europa League format delivered on its promise to guarantee competitive sections, with Group G's opening double-header – Leverkusen vs Ferencváros and Real Betis vs Celtic – a measure of what may be this term's toughest draw. Spare a thought, too, for Lokomotiv Moskva in Group E where the Railwaymen are the only side not to have won a European trophy; the three-time Russian title winners kick off against 1992/93 European champions Marseille, with 1998/99 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup victors Lazio and 1999/2000 UEFA Cup winners Galatasaray to come. 

Rangers vs Lyon a recipe for drama
Expect the unexpected when Rangers host Lyon; the Light Blues beat the French team 3-0 at the latter's old Stade de Gerland in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League group stage, only to lose at home by the same score in the return fixture, Karim Benzema scoring twice. Under the new format, only the top sides in each group qualify for the round of 16, with the runners-up facing one of the third-placed teams from the UEFA Champions League in new knockout round play-offs. Lyon sporting director Juninho Pernambucano said: "Our task is even tougher now that only the group winner qualifies directly. It's important we start well."

Lyon vs Sparta: 2012/13 Europa League flashback
Lyon vs Sparta: 2012/13 Europa League flashback

Fenerbahçe welcome for Eintracht
Eintracht Frankfurt have some of the most passionate supporters in Germany, so they will have some idea of the kind of atmosphere to expect when Fenerbahçe come calling. Not only does the city of Frankfurt have a significant Turkish community, the visitors may also be fielding a famous German international with Turkish roots, their new captain Mesut Özil. Oliver Glasner's men can anticipate another noisy night on Matchday 4 when they visit another red-hot footballing cauldron, Olympiacos’s Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis.

Further ahead?

Rangers v Antwerp: All 14 goals of crazy tie
Rangers v Antwerp: All 14 goals of crazy tie

• Legia boss Czesław Michniewicz has red-letter days pencilled in for Matchdays 2 and 3 when his side take on Leicester and then Napoli. After the draw he said: "We will face my favourite coach, Leicester's Brendan Rodgers. [Last year] I was at Napoli-Barcelona – I was sitting in the stadium dreaming about 'playing' there one day as coach. And the dream came true!" His side warmed up for those challenges with a last-gasp opening-day win on Wednesday.

• West Ham are the 17th Premier League club to figure in the UEFA Europa League group stage. The east London outfit have not qualified for Europe that often, but won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1965 and reached the final of the same competition in 1976. Do they have what it takes to make the decider in Seville?

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Key dates

Group stage
15/16 September: Matchday 1
30 September: Matchday 2
20/21 October: Matchday 3
4 November: Matchday 4
24/25 November: Matchday 5
9 December: Matchday 6

The Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán will host the final
The Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán will host the finalUEFA via Getty Images

Knockout stage
13 December: Knockout round play-offs draw
17 & 24 February: Knockout round play-offs
25 February: Round of 16 draw
10 & 17 March: Round of 16
18 March: Quarter-final & semi-final draws
7 & 14 April: Quarter-finals
28 April & 5 May: Semi-finals
18 May: Final (Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Sevilla)

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