Everton’s Europa League group-stage campaign got off to a disastrous start yesterday as Ronald Koeman’s side were taken apart in Italy, losing 3-0 to Atalanta.
The Serie A club — back in Europe after a 26-year absence — were forced to entertain their English visitors in Reggio Emilia, a two-hour drive south of their base in Bergamo, because their own stadium does not have a licence for European games.
But that did not prove a hindrance to Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, who completely overran Everton, scoring all their goals in the first half courtesy of Andrea Masiello, Alejandro Gomez and Bryan Cristante.
Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg came into the Everton side in one of six changes made by Koeman following a 3-0 home reverse to Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at the weekend.
He made a fine save to deny Masiello just before the half-hour mark only for the same player to put Atalanta ahead from the corner that followed after Gylfi Sigurdsson inadvertently helped the ball into his path at the back post.
Atalanta’s Argentinian captain Gomez curled in a stunning effort to make it 2-0 four minutes from the interval and there was still time for Andrea Petagna to set up Cristante to score the third before the break.
Atalanta could have won by a greater margin, with Remo Freuler striking the bar early in the second period.
“A lot went wrong. In the first half they showed more aggression, more passion, and that’s really painful because in my opinion it starts with that and then you need quality with the ball,” Koeman told BT Sport.
“The commitment and passion they showed in the first half was much stronger than us.”
Everton’s next match in Group E will be at home to Apollon Limassol, the Cypriot side who snatched a 1-1 draw with Lyon on Thursday. Spaniard Adrian Sardinero got their equaliser in stoppage time after a Memphis Depay penalty put the French side ahead.
Meanwhile, AC Milan underlined their status as one of the teams to beat in the competition by romping to a 5-1 victory at Austria Vienna in Group D with Andre Silva scoring a hat-trick.
Milan were three goals up inside 20 minutes in the Austrian capital with Hakan Calhanolgu getting the opener and Portugal striker Silva netting twice.
Alexandar Borkovic got one back for the hosts just after the restart but Silva went on to complete his hat-trick and Suso’s long-range effort sealed the victory for a much-changed Milan side following their 4-1 hammering at Lazio at the weekend.
Hoffenheim, who lost to Liverpool in the Champions League play-offs but beat Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last weekend, suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Portuguese side Braga in Group C despite Sandro Wagner giving them the lead.
Other winners on Thursday included Villarreal, who beat Astana 3-1 in Spain in Group A.
The kick-off in the Group H game between Arsenal and Cologne in London was delayed by an hour until 9:05pm local time (2005 GMT) for crowd safety reasons due to a huge number of ticketless German fans arriving outside the Emirates Stadium.
Atalanta’s players celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League match against Everton at the Mapei Stadium in Reggie Emilia yesterday.