Can Aston Villa achieve rare feat in European football and reach ECL final?

Villa are 4-2 down from the first leg against Olympiacos.

Unai Emery and Aston Villa face a Europa Conference League test
Unai Emery and Aston Villa face a Europa Conference League test (Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA)

Aston Villa will have to achieve a rare feat in European football if they are to reach the Europa Conference League final.

Only three times in UEFA’s current trio of competitions has a team lost a first leg at home by two or more goals and gone on to progress to the next round.

That is the task facing Unai Emery’s men after a 4-2 defeat to Olympiacos and here, the PA news agency looks at the few precedents for success – and while Unai Emery himself has previous, the most recent example comes from Villa’s semi-final opponents…

Olympiacos v Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Europa Conference League, 2024

Ayoub El Kaabi was the star of Olympiacos’ comeback (Rui Vieira/AP)
Ayoub El Kaabi was the star of Olympiacos’ comeback (Rui Vieira/AP) (Rui Vieira/AP)

Olympiacos looked to be heading out of the competition in March after a 4-1 first-leg hammering by Maccabi Tel-Aviv in their own Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis. Even UEFA’s website summary stated “Maccabi take full control of tie,” after Eran Zahavi’s brace and goals for Ido Shahar and Dor Peretz.

Ayoub El Khabi’s goal gave Olympiacos at least something to cling to and the switching of the return leg to Serbia, necessitated by the conflict on the Gaza Strip, negated Maccabi’s home advantage.

El Kaabi scored twice more, with Daniel Podence and Kostas Fortounis also on target as a reciprocal 4-1 win forced extra-time – where substitutes Stevan Jovetic and Youssef El-Arabi completed a 6-1 scoreline, a 7-5 aggregate and a stunning turnaround.

Manchester United v Paris St Germain, Champions League, 2019

Goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe at Old Trafford had PSG on course for the quarter-finals, especially after United’s France midfielder Paul Pogba was sent off in the closing stages and suspended for the trip to his homeland.

Romelu Lukaku had other ideas, scoring twice in the first half-hour to sandwich Juan Bernat’s goal for PSG and keep United in the tie. After Kimpembe was penalised for handball, Marcus Rashford stepped up in the fourth minute of stoppage time to beat Gianluigi Buffon from the penalty spot and send United through on away goals.

The only comeback from a two-goal home defeat in European Cup history was to no avail, though, as they lost 4-0 on aggregate to Barcelona in the last eight and had to watch rivals Liverpool go on to win the trophy.

Sevilla v Real Betis, Europa League, 2014

Unai Emery, left, led Sevilla to a hat-trick of Europa League titles
Unai Emery, left, led Sevilla to a hat-trick of Europa League titles (Adam Davy/PA)

En route to their first of three straight Europa League titles, Emery’s Sevilla trailed their local rivals 2-0 after first-leg goals from Leo Baptistao and, aptly enough, Salva Sevilla.

The short return trip to the Estadio Benito Villamarin brought a 2-0 win of their own, Jose Reyes and Carlos Bacca on target, before Betis’ Alfred N’Diaye and Nono missed in the penalty shoot-out.

Wins over Porto, Valencia and Benfica, in another shoot-out in the final, marked the start of Emery’s love affair with the competition.

Rare achievement

Only 16 teams have ever progressed in the Champions League, Europa League or Conference League after any first-leg loss at home.

Fiorentina overturned a one-goal deficit to Basel in last year’s Conference League semi-final with a 3-1 second-leg win, as did Sheriff against Partizan Belgrade earlier in the competition.

Ajax have twice achieved the feat in the Champions League but were also on the receiving end against Tottenham in 2019. Bayern Munich, against Inter Milan in 2011, and Paris St Germain in this year’s quarter-final with Barcelona complete the list.

The most recent Europa League example was Bayer Leverkusen beating Monaco on penalties last season. Olympiacos came back from a 1-0 defeat to beat Arsenal on away goals in 2020 but suffered the same fate themselves against Metalist Kharkiv in 2012.