Europa League preview: Saints, Manchester United, Roma, Nice in play

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Here’s one way the Europa League has a leg-up on the Champions League: a day full of matches.

While the chaos of the UCL sees eight games starting around the same time, Europa League will give us the entirety of our Thursday afternoons to watch our beloved sport.

Actually, even earlier if you’re tuning in for Slovan Liberec versus Qarabag at 11 a.m. EDT, but the real fireworks start to fly at 1 p.m.

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That’s when Manchester United pays a visit to Feyenoord, Roma heads to Viktoria Plzen, and Athletic Bilbao tries to plant its flag at Sassuolo.

The first of those games will be watched closely, especially given Jose Mourinho’s decision to leave some key pieces behind in Manchester for the first group stage game.

A win would be big for United’s Europa hopes — remember the Europa winners get a Champions League place regardless of domestic standing — especially with Fenerbahce getting the perceived easiest road trip of the group out of the way with its 1 p.m. kickoff at Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk.

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Forget league form when it comes to the Premier League’s other remaining Europa combatant (West Ham was stunned by Astra Giurgiu in the final qualifying round). Southampton has done the Europa dance already, and will want to kickstart its season with what would be an impressive-enough win over visiting Sparta Prague at 3:05 p.m. EDT.

Other big names in play at that late afternoon kickoff time include Schalke, who is off to Nice to meet Mario Balotelli, and Inter Milan, who hosts Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Full Thursday Europa League schedule

all times EDT

Slovan Liberec at Qarabag, 11 a.m.
Genk at Rapid Wien, 1 p.m.
Fenerbahce at Zorya Luhansk, 1 p.m.
Gabala at Anderlecht, 1 p.m.
Zenit Saint-Petersburg at Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 1 p.m.
Olympiacos at Young Boys, 1 p.m.
Roma at Viktoria Plzen, 1 p.m.
Dundalk at AZ Alkmaar, 1 p.m.
Saint Etienne at Mainz, 1 p.m.
Astana at Apoel Nicosia, 1 p.m.
Austria Wien at Astra Giurgiu, 1 p.m.
Athletic Bilbao at Sassuolo, 1 p.m.
Manchester United at Feyenoord, 1 p.m.
Krasnodar at Red Bull Salzburg, 3:05 p.m.
PAOK at Fiorentina, 3:05 p.m.
Ajax at Panathinaikos, 3:05 p.m.
Steaua Bucharest at Osmanlispor, 3:05 p.m.
Hapoel Be’er Shea at Inter Milan, 3:05 p.m.
Celta Vigo at Standard Liege, 3:05 p.m.
Zurich at Villarreal, 3:05 p.m.
Gent at Braga, 3:05 p.m.
Shakhtar Donetsk at Konyapor, 3:05 p.m.
Sparta Prague at Southampton, 3:05 p.m.
Schalke at Nice, 3:05 p.m.