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What to look out for on UEFA Europa League Matchday 1

We take a look at the teams, players and matches set to catch the eye as the UEFA Europa League group stage begins.

The UEFA Europa League group stage starts on 21 September
The UEFA Europa League group stage starts on 21 September UEFA

The UEFA Europa League is giving ambitious, bold contenders the chance to progress to the next level, with Ajax, Marseille and Liverpool all in the mix this season.

In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the first round of UEFA Europa League group stage fixtures. Remember: Every mission matters.

Europa League Ones to Watch in 2023/24

Thursday 21 September

Union SG vs Toulouse (18:45)
LASK vs Liverpool (18:45)
Rennes vs Maccabi Haifa (18:45)
Panathinaikos vs Villarreal (18:45)
Servette vs Slavia Praha (18:45)
Sheriff Tiraspol vs Roma (18:45)
Leverkusen vs Häcken (18:45)
Qarabağ vs Molde (18:45)
West Ham vs TSC (21:00)
Olympiacos vs Freiburg (21:00)
Ajax vs Marseille (21:00)
Brighton vs AEK Athens (21:00)
Sparta Praha vs Aris Limassol (21:00)
Rangers vs Real Betis (21:00)
Atalanta vs Raków Czestochowa (21:00)
Sturm Graz vs Sporting CP (21:00)

All kick-off times CET

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's third-place sides switch to the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs.

Group B's heavyweight battle

Two previous UEFA Champions League winners will go head-to-head when Ajax host Marseille in a mouth-watering tie. The Dutch giants are certainly not short of European pedigree and boast a total of eight UEFA titles, while their opponents famously won the first rebranded Champions League in 1992/93 and have also been UEFA Cup/Europa League runners-up on three occasions.

Brighton and AEK Athens complete what is guaranteed to be a hugely competitive group. "This is a tough draw, but also a beautiful one," said Ajax coach Maurice Steijn. "I love a challenge and we will go into these matches with full commitment. We need to develop this team so we can play these matches."

Classic Marseille Europa League goals

Newcomers ready to challenge

Six teams are preparing to play their first ever Europa League group stage matches, with TSC Bačka Topola, Brighton, Aris Limassol, Raków Czestochowa, Servette and Häcken all making their bows. They certainly won't be content to make up the numbers, though, and will no doubt hope to hit the ground running in their respective sections.

Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi summed up the attitude of all the debutants by saying: "[Our opponents] are all good teams, but we are a good team too. It's the first time for Brighton in Europe. You can imagine the passion there will be to get points and qualify. We want to win the group. It is not important which club we have to play."

Europa League top ten goals of the season

Liverpool return

It has been eight years since Liverpool last played Europa League group stage football, and the Reds will be looking to go one better than last time, when they lost the 2015/16 final 3-1 to Sevilla in Basel. They have a tricky-looking start to life in Group E, though, as they travel to Austria to face LASK.

That painful defeat to Sevilla was during coach Jürgen Klopp's first season at the club, and the German is raring to go again in the tournament after being dealt a "top" draw. "I've never played against one of the teams, which I love, and [I'm] really excited about it," he said. "When I saw it I went through the squads directly and tried to figure out a little bit who I know, what I know already, but that's obviously not enough at the moment. We will be prepared."

2016 final highlights: Sevilla 3-1 Liverpool

When are the remaining Europa League group stage games?

Matchday 2: 5 October 2023
Matchday 3: 26 October 2023
Matchday 4: 9 November 2023
Matchday 5: 30 November 2023
Matchday 6: 14 December 2023

Further ahead

There could be another family affair on the cards on Matchday 2, with Argentinian midfielder Alexis Mac Allister's Liverpool hosting his brother Kevin's Union SG at Anfield in Group E.

• Freiburg hosting Europa Conference League champions West Ham in Group A should be a fascinating match, with the Hammers looking to avenge the memories of their last trip to Germany, when they lost the Europa League semi-final against Frankfurt in 2022.

• In the same group, Serbian side TSC's first home match in European group stage football is against Greek team Olympiacos, who were knocked out at this stage last season after finishing bottom of their section.

Where is the 2024 UEFA Europa League final being played?

Getty Images

The 2023/24 UEFA Europa League season will conclude at Dublin Arena in the Republic of Ireland on 22 May 2024.

With a capacity in excess of 50,000, Dublin Arena is the home of the Republic of Ireland's national football and Ireland's rugby union team. First opened in 2010, the stadium will be staging its second UEFA Europa League decider, having been the venue for the all-Portuguese final of 2011 between Porto and Braga, when Radamel Falcao scored the only goal as the Dragons took the trophy.

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