It was a mixed start for the English clubs in this year’s Europa League campaign, with Manchester United losing 1-0 in Holland to Feyenoord, whilst Southampton cantered to a commanding 3-0 win at St Mary’s against Sparta Prague.
Jose Mourinho signalled his intention to take this competition seriously with the strength of his starting eleven. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata all began the game, along with what is likely to be the first choice centre-back partnership going forward, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling.
The first real chance of the game fell to the home side. Steven Berghuis, on loan from Watford, cut in on his left foot, but his side-footed strike towards the far left corner from 20 yards was a comfortable stop for David De Gea.
United’s first chance came from a set-piece after 17 minutes. After Ander Herrera was tripped 25 yards out by Karim El Ahmadi, Pogba struck a free-kick that was well handled by Brad Jones, the ex-Liverpool goalkeeper.
Just seven minutes later, Matteo Darmian cut the ball back to Martial on the edge of the box, but he flashed his shot wide of the right hand post.
Giovanni Van Bronkhorst’s side grew as the half progressed, but Jens Toornstra was unable to keep the ball below the crossbar after Terrance Kongolo’s cut back from the left made its way across the box, evading all of United back four.
Pogba tried to assert his authority on the game early on in the second-half by moving into the number 10 role, but his left footed strike after a neat Cruyff turn 25 yards out sailed high and harmlessly over Jones’ crossbar in the 50th minute.
Mourinho’s men huffed and puffed in the second period, which sparked the manager into a triple change, bringing on Ashley Young, Memphis Depay and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The former and the latter almost combined in the 74th minute from a set-piece, but Ibrahimovic’s header from inside the six-yard box was off target.
The breakthrough finally came in the 79th minute. The visitors were undone at the back on the counter attack, with Jorgensen escaping down the right and cutting the ball back to Vilhena in the box, who made no mistake from 12 yards out with his left foot.
United rarely threatened to get back into the game, with Ibrahimovic’s free-kick in the 90th minute the closest they came to equalising, but Jones held on well to his powerful strike.
Meanwhile Charlie Austin got fellow Premier League outfit Southampton off to the perfect start just five minutes in against Sparta, after referee Manuel Grafe dubiously awarded the home side a penalty after an apparent handball by Costa Nhamoinesu. Despite Dusan Tadic’s protests, Austin took the spot kick, and duly slotted it past Tomas Koubek.
Virgil Van Dijk then missed the target with a header from James Ward-Prowse’s corner on 10 minutes.
Sparta’s first chance was a speculative one from midfielder Lukas Vacha shortly after, though his volley from 25 yards out was comfortably stopped by Fraser Forster.
Austin went close again from another set-piece, but was unable to put enough on the ball in to divert it into the net after another Ward-Prowse delivery.
The striker then headed Claude Puel’s side into a two-goal inside 26 minutes, having had a previous strike ruled out for offside just a minute earlier. Cuco Martina sent in a cross with the outside of his right foot, and Austin placed the ball low to Koubek’s left, with the keeper unable to keep the powerful header out.
Southampton continued to apply the pressure early in the second-half, but Tadic could not further the lead, his left footed effort from the left of the area saved by Koubek on 52 minutes.
Zdenek Scasny’s side offered very little throughout the game, but Forster had to be alert to push away substitute David Lafata’s powerful strike from 20 yards half way through the second period.
Jay Rodriguez capped off a very satisfying night in the 92nd minute, with Shane Long picking his strike partner out in the middle of the box to send them top of Group K.
Elsewhere; in Manchester United’s group, Ukranian side Zorya Luhansk drew 1-1 at home against Turkish side Fenerbahce. Dmytro Grechyshkin’s 30-yard rocket for the home side was worthy of winning any game, but the equaliser came from Simon Kjaer in the last minute of injury time.
In Southampton’s group, Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva caused one of the upsets of the night, beating Inter Milan 2-0 away from home. Both goals came after half-time, with one each for Miguel Victor and Maor Buzaglo.
Zenit Saint Petersburg won a thriller away at Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-3, with Aleksandr Kokorin and Filip Dordevic among those on the score sheet for the Russian side.
Italian side Sassuolo ran out comfortable winners against Athletic Bilbao at home, winning 3-0 on the opening night.
Peter Bosz’s Ajax were also winners on matchday one, winning 2-1 away at Greek side Panathinaikos, thanks to goals from Chelsea loanee Bertrand Traore and defender Jairo Riedewald.