Best XI of the Europa League Group Stages
The UEFA Europa League is firmly established as the second continental competition. But while the Champions League boasts the best teams in the world, its little brother offers a level of competitiveness and surprise that comes from the tournament's mammoth format.
Thursday evening saw the group stage come to an end, with 24 sides progressing to the next round where the Champions League's third-placed outfits will be waiting. But who really stood out during the 72-match marathon that decided the placings?
From Group A to Group L and from London to Tel Aviv, here are the top stars from the Europa League's opening round.
Trabzonspor sprung one of the surprises of the Europa League in finishing top of their group. It was no mean feat, when Italian giants Lazio were in direct competition for the summit of Group J.
Both teams advanced unbeaten through the stage, drawing 0-0 and 3-3 in their meetings. The impressive goalkeeping of Onur Kivrak, whose performances turned him into a transfer target for the mighty Manchester United, according to Metro, were key in his side's success and earn him the No. 1 jersey here.
With just three goals conceded in their six matches, Italian side Fiorentina boasted the meanest defence in the entire Europa League. For that reason, the Viola contribute two players to this back four: Argentina pair Gonzalo Rodriguez and Facundo Roncaglia.
Swansea City's Jordi Amat joins Rodriguez in the middle following an excellent campaign in his first season in Wales. The defence is completed with Lazio's versatile star Luis Pedro Cavanda; predominantly a right-back, the Angolan-born Belgium youth international had a fine group stage and can slot in on the left.
Red Bull Salzburg were untouchable during their Group C campaign. A perfect six wins in six mean the Austrians finished as the only side, in either the Europa or Champions League, to finish the round with a 100 percent record. Two Salzburg stalwarts anchor our midfield.
Slovenia international and former Bayer Leverkusen man Kevin Kampl was the definition of a box-to-box midfielder, averaging more than two tackles, three key passes and five dribbles per game.
Sadio Mane was the destroyer alongside Kampl in the middle, and our trio is completed by Rubin Kazan midfielder Bebras Natcho, who contributed a brilliant three goals and five assists to his team's efforts.
Another Salzburg man figures highly in attack. Brazilian striker Alan was in electric form throughout the group stage, netting four goals and setting up the same amount to show his class and potential. Forward partner Jonathan Soriano was another candidate, but he is squeezed out by top scorer (with five) Jermain Defoe of Tottenham.
The England international, in fact, tied for that honour, and the man who matched him strike for strike lines up here alongside Defoe and Alan. Trabzonspor's Olcan Adin, who, as well as netting five, had a direct hand in three more goals and scored a brilliant hat-trick against Apollon Limassol to help the Turks through. He will serve as the link between midfield and attack in this team.
The Europa League Top XI
Roncaglia, Rodriguez, Amat, Cavanda
Kampl, Mane, Natcho
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