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What to look out for on UEFA Europa League Matchday 1

Manchester United, Lazio and PSV Eindhoven start the campaign among the Europa League frontrunners, but all face tricky first-night encounters.

PSV's Cody Gakpo, Man United's Christian Eriksen and Lazio's Ciro Immobile
PSV's Cody Gakpo, Man United's Christian Eriksen and Lazio's Ciro Immobile

Having all won major continental titles, Manchester United, Lazio and PSV Eindhoven can be confident as they kick off the UEFA Europa League group stage, but each of them face tricky first matches.

In this piece presented by Enterprise, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the opening fixtures.

How qualifying for the knockouts works

The eight group winners automatically go through to the last 16. Additional knockout round play-offs will then be played before the round of 16, pitching the eight group runners-up against the third-ranked teams from the UEFA Champions League groups. The Europa League third-place sides switch to the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs.

Thursday 8 September
Group A: Zürich vs Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven vs Bodø/Glimt
Group B: AEK Larnaca vs Rennes, Fenerbahçe vs Dynamo Kyiv
Group C: Ludogorets vs Roma, HJK Helsinki vs Real Betis
Group D: Malmö vs Braga, Union Berlin vs St Gilloise
Group E: Man United vs Real Sociedad, Omonoia vs Sheriff
Group F: Lazio vs Feyenoord, Sturm Graz vs Midtjylland
Group G: Freiburg vs Qarabağ, Nantes vs Olympiacos
Group H: Crvena zvezda vs Monaco, Ferencváros vs Trabzonspor

2021 highlights: Real Sociedad 0-4 Man. United

What to look out for

Real Sociedad first to face Old Trafford test
"Europe is always something special," said Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag as he reacted to the Europa League group stage draw. After weathering a tough start to his Old Trafford career, the Dutchman now has cause to be optimistic as his side take on Real Sociedad, whom he has labelled "a really great club" and "tough opponents".

The San Sebastián outfit boasted ex-Man City midfielder David Silva in their ranks when they lost 4-0 on aggregate against United in the 2020/21 Europa League round of 32. La Real have yet to score in four matches against the Red Devils but still look like their sternest group stage rivals, with Omonoia and Sheriff completing the Group E line-up.

Final highlights: Roma 1-0 Feyenoord

Lazio welcome Feyenoord in Group F
Lazio and Feyenoord's only previous meetings came in the second group stage of the 1999/2000 UEFA Champions League, the Rotterdam side winning 2-1 in Rome and drawing 0-0 at home. However, Feyenoord may feel they have unfinished business, having lost 1-0 to Lazio's city rivals Roma in last season's Europa Conference League final in Tirana.

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot feels Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri is a footballing kindred spirit. "I followed him a lot as a young coach because he let Napoli play so well," he said. Sarri faced Feyenoord with Napoli back in the 2017/18 Champions League group stage; his side won 3-1 at home but lost the return leg 2-1 in Rotterdam.

Group stage highlights: Bodø/Glimt 6-1 Roma

Bodø/Glimt to test PSV's resolve
PSV coach Ruud van Nistelrooy had set his heart on a return to the Champions League, the competition he starred in as a striker for Manchester United and Real Madrid, but after his side lost out to Rangers in the play-offs, the 46-year-old kicks off his first UEFA group stage campaign as a coach with a different sort of challenge.

Norwegian champions Bodø/Glimt beat Roma 6-1 in last season's Europa Conference League group stage, then eliminated Celtic and AZ Alkmaar en route to a less successful meeting with José Mourinho's side in the quarter-finals. They were disappointed to lose out to Dinamo Zagreb in this season's Champions League play-offs, but coach Kjetil Knutsen is not despairing. "It's incredibly rewarding to be playing such big matches with such a small club," he said. "We can learn new things all the time."

When are the Europa League group stage games being played?

Matchday 1: 8 September 2022
Matchday 2: 15 September 2022
Matchday 3: 6 October 2022
Matchday 4: 13 October 2022
Matchday 5: 27 October 2022
Matchday 6: 3 November 2022

Great Arsenal Europa League goals

Further ahead
• Arsenal face a test on Matchday 2 as they host PSV in London; PSV drew 1-1 in their last away game against the Gunners to secure an aggregate win in the 2006/07 Champions League round of 16.

• Last season's Europa Conference League winners Roma kick off their double-header against Real Betis on Matchday 3. Coach Mourinho has already won this competition as the UEFA Cup (Porto, 2002/03) and the Europa League (Manchester United, 2016/17).

• Ferencváros will be a team to track as the group stage unfolds; the only Hungarian side involved in any of the major men's club competition group stages this term, the Budapest side have a chance to play in the final in their home city.

Where is the 2023 UEFA Europa League final being played?

The 2022/23 Europa League season will conclude at Budapest's Puskás Aréna on 31 May 2023.

Officially opened in 2019, the 65,000+ capacity ground stands on the site of the old Hungarian national team stadium, which was also named in honour of former Honvéd and Real Madrid forward Ferenc Puskás. The venue is located in the Zugló district of the Hungarian capital.