After a pulsating return to Champions League action for Europe's elite on Tuesday and Wednesday, it was all eyes on the Europa League on Thursday evening as some heavyweight teams joined an ensemble cast.
A stellar line-up was headlined by Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the early kick-offs, as the knockout phase began with 16 ties spread far and wide across Europe.
The Gunners seized the initiative in their tie with minnows Östersunds FK, sealing a comfortable 3-0 win in perishingly cold conditions. Nacho Monreal continued his recent hot streak with the opening goal, before Henrikh Mkhitaryan's cross was turned into his own net by Sotiris Papagiannopolous.
Mesut Ozil added a third in the second-half for Arsene Wenger's side, before David Ospina saved a stoppage time penalty to preserve Arsenal's healthy advantage.
Borussia Dortmund snatched a dramatic 3-2 win against Atalanta at the Westfalenstadion, as Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi scored a last-gasp winner. The Belgian's brace, taking his Dortmund goal tally to five in just three outings, canceled out Josep Ilicic's two goals as the Bundesliga giants fought back after lettting a lead given to them by Andre Schurrle slip away.
Goals from Patrick Cutrone, Ricardo Rodriguez and Fabio Borini helped Italian giants AC Milan dodge a potential banana skin, as they beat Bulgarian champions Ludogerets 3-0 on their own patch,
Mario Balotelli's first-half brace was not enough for Ligue 1 outfit Nice, as they slumped to a 3-2 defeat at home to Lokomotiv Moscow. Former Everton loanee Manuel Fernandes was in inspired form for the visitors, grabbing a hat-trick as the Russians fought back from two goals down to turn the tie around.
There were comfortable first-leg wins for Marseille, Athletic Bilbao and Sporting CP, while former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj struck late on as Real Sociedad drew 2-2 with Red Bull Salzburg.
Red Star Belgrade drew 0-0 with CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night, in a game marred by crowd trouble.