I’m conscious of the fact that John already has a Europa League trophy in his rather large cabinet, but this season marks my own first trips into Europe. Before we even get to the group stage, there’s the little matter of the Qualifying Rounds to get through. Life as a Rangers fan means I’m used to this – although not so much recently, granted.
First off is tie against Kazakhstan’s finest, FC Kairat. The home tie is up first, and we sneak a 1-0 win, with Giovanni Simeone getting the winner. Away from home, we look far better, and beat them on their own patch 3-0, with goals from Simeone, Hilton, and Sandro.
A further qualifying round against Rosenborg is a bit more worrying. But fear not. Two 3-0 victories give us a 6-0 aggregate lead over the two legs. The first comes courtesy of goals from Sandro, Aleix Febas, and Marcos Llorente, while the away tie sees Sandro get the opener and Lucas Ferraz Vila grab two, all before half-time.
Our first four European ties end without a goal conceded and with an average score of 10-0. Onto the group stages.
As I watch the draw for the next round, there are a number of teams I would rather avoid. AC Milan is one of them, AEK Athens another. Sure enough, we get both, along with FK Austria Wien (Austria Vienna to you and me), and I fear for my European future.
First up is an away tie against AC Milan. 1-0 to us, 1-1; 2-1 to us, 2-2. AC Milan go ahead with 16 minutes to go, but we equalise 5 minutes later to get our first points on the board. Hilton, Sandro and Clément Lenglet are on the scoresheet for the mighty Montpellier, and we get a decent 3-3 result.
Next up is a home tie against AEK Athens. Incredibly, we emerge from this game with a 6-0 victory. We absolutely tear AEK apart. A first half hat-trick from Vincent Janssen is followed up in the second half by goals from Jeando Fuchs, Ellyes Skhiri, and Marcos Llorente.
After 2 games, we sit top of Group G, and have a home tie against bottom club Austria Wien next.
So, a decent start, and some confidence that we can go further. We have to, really, because the board expects us to reach the semi-final of this competition.