MADRID – Favorites Valencia, Chelsea, Napoli and Villarreal all triumphed away from home on Thursday in the first legs of their respective Europa League round-of-32 ties.
Another of the teams expected to do well, Eintracht Frankfurt managed only a 2-2 draw away to Shakhtar Donetsk despite enjoying a man advantage for most of the match.
In Switzerland, Napoli led 2-0 after 21 minutes on goals by Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon. Piotr Zielinski added a third for the visitors in the 77th minute before Zurich’s Benjamin Kololli converted a penalty in the 83rd to make the final score 3-1.
Chelsea, in their first match since losing 6-0 to Manchester City last weekend in the Premier League, were clearly the better side against Malmö and Blues coach Maurizio Sarri was confident enough to leave Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante and new acquisition Gonzalo Higuain on the bench to start the game.
Ross Barkley put the Londoners ahead in the 30th minute and Olivier Giroud doubled the lead with a spectacular effort just ahead of the hour mark.
Anders Christiansen clawed back a goal for the eager Swedish side in the 80th minute, but Chelsea were never seriously in danger.
Facing Celtic in Glasgow, Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral gambled by pairing Denis Cheryshev with Ruben Sobrino up front and the bet paid off as the duo led the Spanish club to a 2-0 victory with goals on either side of half time.
The Russian scored in the 42nd minute with an assist from Sobrino, who made it 2-0 just four minutes into the second half on a pass from Cheryshev.
Alfonso Pedraza scored in the 3rd minute for Villarreal against Sporting in Lisbon and while one goal turned out to be enough in the end, the hosts never gave up, even after going down to 10 men with Marcos Acuña’s expulsion in the 77th minute.
On the road in Ukraine, Frankfurt led twice against Shakhtar only to concede the equalizer on both occasions.
Martin Hinteregger put the German club up 1-0 in the 7th minute and Marlos converted a penalty for Shakhtar in the 10th, a minute before the home side lost midfielder Taras Stepanenko for his second yellow card of the night.
Frankfurt reclaimed the lead in the 50th minute on Filip Kostic’s goal. Shakhtar pulled level in the 67th on a strike by Taison and the contest ended in a draw.