Aston Villa marked their long-awaited return to European football with a shock 3-2 defeat against Legia Warsaw in their Europa Conference League group stage opener.
The Polish giants took the lead on three separate occasions to claim an impressive victory over their Premier League counterparts.
Unai Emery unsurprisingly rotated his squad for the continental clash with a weekend trip to Chelsea firmly at the back of his mind.
However, things did not pan out as the Spanish manager would have imagined, with Legia snatching an early lead at the Stadion Wojska Polskiego.
Making their first European appearance after a 14-year hiatus, Villa were caught napping in defence as Patryk Kun picked out an unmarked Pawel Wszolek, who made no mistake slotting home the opening goal inside three minutes.
Despite their poor start to the game, Emery would have been proud of his side’s response to adversity, with Jhon Duran turning home a rebound with a difficult header three minutes later.
Having restored parity, the visitors were once again caught off-guard with a swift transition that saw Wszolek turn provider as his cross from the right found Ernest Muci, who cooly finished from close range.
The Albanian attacker caused several problems for the Villa backline, threatening on a couple of occasions.
But Emery’s side levelled matters for the second time against the run of play, with Lucas Digne pouncing on a loose ball before sending a deflected effort sailing into the top corner.
Duran could have given Villa the lead for the first time in the tie, but Legia goalkeeper Kacper Tobiasz smothered the opportunity to ensure both sides went into the half-time interval with a share of the spoils.
Much to Emery’s frustration, Legia took the lead for a third time shortly after the break as Muci carved out a yard of space before rifling a low effort past Emiliano Martinez.
Legia had done enough to deserve their lead, and this time, Villa couldn’t muster a response despite throwing in a handful of their star performers from the bench.
The Polish side came close to adding a fourth when Martinez failed to adequately deal with an effort from Bartosz Slisz, nearly allowing Marc Gual a tap-in on the rebound.
Legia ultimately maintained a defensive resilience to see out a barrage of late attacks from Villa, who now have it all to do following a massively disappointing result.
It’s back to the drawing board for Emery’s side, who are heavy favourites to progress from Group E, and they will get a chance to set the record straight with HSK Zrinjski Mostar next up on the European stage.
They first have Chelsea to worry about at the weekend, and Emery will be keen for his side to put today’s result behind them and focus on the Stamford Bridge fixture.
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