Football Features

Seven stories you might have missed from Thursday’s European action

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:30, 16 September 2021

It was an incredible night of action in the Europa League and UEFA Conference League.

Lots of Premier League and Scottish Premiership sides were in action, with West Ham the standouts as they comfortably won 0-2 away in Zagreb. It was an impressive victory for the Hammers as all eyes were on them. But how did the rest of the night go?

What might you have missed?

1. Leicester lose their heads again

This seems to be the story with Leicester, both in terms of certain games but also just the way their seasons go in general. Leicester were incredible against Napoli to start the game, they really flew at their illustrious opponents and deservedly took the lead nine minutes in when Harvey Barnes’ great cross was turned in by Ayoze Perez.

Even as Napoli fought their way back into the game, Leicester kept plugging away and snatched a second on the break through Barnes who hammered the ball into the net that capped off a counter-attack so good that Barnes shooting was actually the wrong decision (he should have squared to Patson Daka for a tap-in).

Leicester played so well – but Napoli were getting steadily better and better. And in the end Leicester did what they have done in the last two seasons when defending a big lead in the Premier League table; they’ve let it slip, they’ve lost their nerve. This seems to be a problem permeating through the club and when you consider what Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side did at the end of the 2013/14 Premier League title race despite looking like favourites all season; maybe it just comes with the territory for Rodgers?

2. Victor Osimhen is serious business

After a massive €70 million move to Napoli last summer, Victor Osimhen only scored 10 goals all season. And when he began this campaign with two goalless performances, Napoli fans may have been worried that their new striker was a dud.

Well, worry not! Osimhen was absolutely phenomenal against Leicester. He ended the night with 6 shots, 3 on target and 2 goals. He also created 2 chances and completed 4 take-ons. He was impossible to handle, to the extent that Brendan Rodgers brought Caglar Soyuncu on to try and do it – to no avail.

Osimhen’s first goal was a sensational improvisational effort where he flicked the ball over Jannik Vestergaard and then gently lobbed the ball over the onrushing Kasper Schmeichel with his leg about five foot in the air. And as if that Zlatan-esque acrobatic genius wasn’t enough he then rose powerfully into the air, hung there for about six seconds then thumped home an 87th minute header that drew Napoli level and completed the most improbable of comebacks.

This young man is for real. At 21 years-old you can expect greatness from him in the short, medium and long-term.

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3. Spurs still slumping

After getting spanked 3-0 by Crystal Palace, you expected a bit of bounce-back from Spurs as they travelled to France to face Rennes in the Europa Conference League. And despite taking the lead through an own goal, they never really built on that and were eventually pegged back by Rennes who even pushed themselves into a lead.

Spurs did rouse themselves to get an equaliser but that they started Harry Kane and still barely scraped a draw with Rennes was such a damning indictment of where they are as a team. You never want to judge a manager so early in his reign at a new club but Nuno Espirito Santo does not appear to have reinvigorated Spurs as those three 1-0 wins to start the Premier League indicated he might have done.

4. The Green Glory of Betis vs Celtic

In a battle between two teams famous for wearing green, albeit both wore their away kit to make it fair, the early edge went to Celtic. The Hoops went two up in the first 30 minutes and everything was looking rosy, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side roared back with four goals in the space of 31 in-game minutes.

The middle third of the match is often overlooked but Betis used it to rocket their way into a 4-2 lead, only for a late strike from Anthony Ralston to bring it back to 4-3 and give an intense finish! But the Scottish side couldn’t get an equaliser so Betis walked away with a win.

5. Old Firm Misery

While Celtic gave us a glorious showing out in Andalucia, Rangers instead hosting Lyon and treated us to a miserable showing. Celtic had almost as many shots by themselves (16) than there were between both sides at Ibrox (19). Rangers lost 0-2, but it wasn’t like Lyon were any great shakes themselves they were just able to confortably palm Steven Gerrard’s team aside with Lucas Paqueta running the show in midfield.

That’s not a good look for the Scottish champions who have already crashed out of the Champions League this season. Could the Europa League be next? It’s early of course, but they still need to travel to France to play Lyon and their next match is away to Sparta Prague and that’s the city where their Europa League run ended last year.

6. Redemptions in Eindhoven

The theme of the night as PSV and Real Sociedad played out a 2-2 draw was redemption. Mario Gotze and Adnan Januzaj were once incredible young prospects around the same time (sort of) and neither of them ended up making good on their massive talent. Gotze has accomplished some incredible things, including scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final, but that just shows the scale of his ability and that he got nowhere near that is so sad. And while Januzaj was never that electric, he promised so much for United and then fell away.

Tonight both men took centre-stage, however. Gotze scored the opening goal and after Januzaj equalised and Isak drove La Real into the lead, Gotze roared back by setting up Cody Gakpo for an equaliser.

7. José Mourinho: Conference League King

While many sides struggled to rotate their teams and stay dominant, José Mourinho had no such issues as Roma demolished CSKA Sofia. They actually fell behind early but put their foot down and mowed down their visitors with five unanswered goals, including a brace for Lorenzo Pellegrini. They even got Tammy Abraham off the bench and the Englishman bagged his first European goal for his new club. Unlike his former club Spurs, José Mourinho looks to have taken to the Conference League like a duck to water.