NAPLES, Italy – Napoli and Chelsea got off to strong starts on Thursday in their Europa League round-of-16 clashes, with each club winning 3-0 in first-leg contests against Red Bull Salzburg and Dynamo Kyiv, respectively.
Napoli scored twice early in the first half to take full command of their two-match series against Salzburg at Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik kicked off the scoring in the 10th minute when he received a pass at a spot just outside the area, dribbled around oncoming goalkeeper Alexander Walke and then tapped the ball home.
Fabian Ruiz Peña then doubled the home side’s lead eight minutes later on a left-footed volley from the edge of the area after receiving a pass from Jose Callejon.
The final goal came early in the second half off the head of Salzburg defender Jerome Onguene, who inadvertently scored past his own goalkeeper in the 58th minute while trying to clear a pass over the crossbar.
Chelsea also cruised to an easy win in their first-leg match, which was played at Stamford Bridge in London.
Pedro opened the scoring in the 17th minute when he finished off a give-and-go with Olivier Giroud, who set up the goal with a sublime back-heeled pass through the legs of a Dynamo defender.
Willian gave the Blues a 2-0 lead in the 65th minute with a free kick that left visiting goalkeeper Denys Boyko frozen, while Callum Hudson-Odoi capped off the easy victory with a score on a rapid counter-attack just before second-half stoppage time.
On the play, Pedro sent a sublime ball across the field to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who deftly gathered it and then set up the English winger for a right-footed strike past Boyko.
While Chelsea imposed their dominance, their cross-town rival Arsenal had a miserable outing Thursday in a 3-1 loss to Ligue 1 side Rennes.
The Gunners took the lead in the third minute but then gave up three unanswered goals at Roazhon Park to fall into a big hole heading into the second leg.
In other Europa League first-leg, round-of-16 action Thursday night, Sevilla and Slavia Praha played to a 2-2 draw at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Eintracht Frankfurt and Inter Milan played to a scoreless draw at Waldstadion, Villarreal topped Zenit Saint Petersburg 3-1 on the road at Kirov Stadium, Valencia hung on for a 2-1 win over Krasnodar at Mestalla Stadium and Dinamo Zagreb defeated Benfica 1-0.
The second legs of these round-of-16 match-ups will be played on March 14.
The Europa League is Europe’s second-biggest club soccer competition after the Champions League.