Decoding the five best Europa League matches in 2021
The year 2021 is coming to an end and over the period we witnessed several top matches in the UEFA Europa League. The knockout stages of the 2020-21 season and the group stage of this campaign saw top-notch performances in Europe's second-tier competition. Ahead of the UEL playoffs knockout stages starting in February 2022, we look at the best matches in 2021.
On May 27, 2021, Spanish side Villarreal stunned Manchester United to win their first major European trophy. Gerard Moreno handed Villarreal the lead in the first half before Edinson Cavani equalized in the 55th minute. The match went on to extra time before a penalty shootout. The Spanish side won 11-10 on penalties as David de Gea missed the final spot-kick.
United came from behind to hammer Roma 6-2 in the first-leg of their semi-final tie against Roma at Old Trafford. Bruno Fernandes scored in the ninth minute before Lorenzo Pellegrini (15') and Edin Dzeko (33') netted for Roma. In the second half, United restored parity, with Edinson Cavani scored a brace as Fernandes got his second. Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood scored as well.
West Ham United started their Europa League journey this season with a valuable 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in September. They saw Michail Antonio and Declan Rice score in either halves to give the side a perfect start in its European journey. As per Opta, at 22 years and 245 days, Rice became West Ham's youngest goal-scorer in major European competition since Frank Lampard.
Leicester City were beaten 3-2 by Napoli on matchday six of the UEL 2021-22 season. With this defeat, Leicester dropped into the Europa Conference League. Napoli scored an early goal through Adam Ounas. Elif Elmas netted the second in the 24th minute. The Foxes rallied back in quick succession, scoring twice. In the second half, Elmas went on to score the winning goal.
Matchday five of the UEL 2021-22 season saw Bayer Leverkusen trump Celtic. Robert Andrich gave Leverkusen an early lead before Celtic scored twice in each half to gain a 2-1 scoreline. Andrich equalized in the 82nd minute for the hosts and Moussa Diaby thumped in the winner to secure top spot for Leverkusen. Celtic's late collapse did them in this five-goal affair.