So the Europa League was fun on Thursday.
The 3:15 pm ET kickoffs picked up where the 1pm kicks left off, as no game featured fewer than two goals between the sides.
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Arsenal will be bummed to head back from Portugal on level terms, albeit with an away goal, while two USMNT players will be left with bitter tastes in their mouths despite being amongst their team’s best players in Europa League first legs.
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Steven Gerrard’s Glasgow Rangers got a huge If sloppy and entertaining win in Belgium, while Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch did not get an advantage from a home first leg versus Villarreal.
1. Advantageous Weah’s heroics lost in goofy Lille loss
Lille 1-2 Ajax
This match-up of Ligue 1 and Eredivisie sides was probably the highlights of the PM games, which is saying something on a day with Benfica – Arsenal on the docket.
American forward Timothy Weah took advantage of a terrible back pass from Nicolas Tagliafico with a cool, almost no-look finish to give Lille a 1-0 lead.
But Ajax won a questionable late penalty and then scored a second goal within minutes to deliver a shocking turn of events in France.
Dusan Tadic scored a penalty after a clever clever bit of acting produced a Lille foul in the 85th minute, and Brian Brobbey scored off a Davy Klaasen pass four minutes later.
Weah, playing wide right, scored his fifth goal in 741 minutes for Lille this season, and it’s his third-straight Europa League appearance with a goal contribution. He also registered two key passes and. was the club’s best player on the day.
2. Aubameyang not fixed yet, Saka not broken
Benfica 1-1 Arsenal
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s weekend hat trick versus Leeds United felt like it might’ve been the start of a hot streak for the Gabonese.
But the striker, one of the most lethal finishers of his generation, is quite frankly the reason Arsenal isn’t bringing a healthy lead home like Premier League mates Spurs and Manchester United.
Aubameyang missed two big chances, one of them a massive opportunity to provide the winner, as Benfica limited the forward to 21 touches. If we’re honest, Nicolas Pepe’s 13 minutes in his place were lively if without the gilt-edged chances Aubameyang failed to convert in his time.
Fortunately, Bukayo Saka is still electrifying the competition. The 19-year-old leveled the score for Mikel Arteta’s men off a Cedric Soares assist that withstood VAR review.
Saka was limited to two goals this season when he scored on Boxing Day against Chelsea, kicking off a run of five goals and three assists in 11 matches including Thursday’s affair.
The away goal is very useful but it’s all in play next week in North London.
3. USMNT back Richards impresses for Hoffenheim in six-goal thriller
Molde 3-3 Hoffenheim
This was all sorts of nuts.
The favored Bundesliga visitors took a predictable 2-0 lead through Munas Dabbur’s brace, but Martin Ellingsen scored before halftime to keep Molde in the mix.
Dabbur set up Christoph Baumgartner for a 3-1 lead but then missed a bid for a hat trick with a 56th-minute penalty attempt.
Yet Molde’s Eirik Andersen and David Datro Fofana scored four minutes apart late to put the game level.
It may sound weird to say given Hoffenheim’s three goals conceded, but Bayern Munich loanee and USMNT center back Chris Richards was quite good as a left-sided defender in a back three.
Richards helped set up Hoffenheim’s third goal, won 7-of-9 duels, and collected three interceptions, a clearance, two tackles, and a blocked shot. He also completed six-of-seven long passes.
The 20-year-old played three Champions League matches for Bayern during the group stage including a start against Red Bull Salzburg, and the occasion was not too big for him.
Other Europa League first legs, 3:15pm ET kickoffs
Granada 2-0 NapoliMaccabi-Tel Aviv 0-2 Shakhtar DonetskRoyal Antwerp 3-4 RangersRed Bull Salzburg 0-2 Villarreal
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UEL three things learned: Aubameyang angst, USMNT youth glows (video) originally appeared on NBCSports.com