It was an exciting night of Europa League action on matchday two, giving us plenty of goals and upsets.
What did we learn?
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1. The unforgivable shame of racism rears its ugly head again
Rangers lost 1-0 away to Sparta Prague, that is incidental. Glen Kamara was sent off, that is critical. Forget for a moment that his second yellow was an absolutely ridiculous decision, the real story of the night, and the biggest tragedy, is that he faced racial abuse in the Czech Republic yet again.
Last season Kamara was abused by Slavia Prague’s captain Ondrej Kudela, and this ultimately resulted in a long ban for Kudela. Sparta Prague’s fans, meanwhile, racially abused Aurelian Tchouameni during a Champions League qualifier in August and are currently under a stadium ban, meaning no fans were to be allowed in. An exception was made for approximately 10,000 schoolchildren aged 14 or under, but that exception only ended up laying bare just how big of a problem racism is in Czech football.
Sparta Prague fans racially abused Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni so faced a stadium closure tonight vs Rangers.
The only exception is that 10,000 local kids under 14 years are in but Glen Kamara, racially abused by Slavia’s Ondrej Kudela, is now being booed with every touch.
— Jordan Campbell (@JordanC1107) September 30, 2021
Glen Kamara was targetted for booing for the entire time he was on the field. As were Rangers other black players like Kemar Roofe. The perpetrators were those schoolchildren. Racism is so embedded that they were able to teach children to abuse Kamara. One of them was even pictured holding up a sign saying “Kudela team” with the badges of Slavia and Sparta.
Aamer Anwar, Kamara’s lawyer, has already made a statement, saying “this evening should be an embarrassment for the Czech side that, despite their fans being banned, it still made little difference that the stadium was filled with 10,000 schoolchildren. A huge proportion of those children booed Glen’s every touch of the ball along with every other black player for Rangers.” He then concluded with “no player should have to face this at their work and on the European stage.”
— Emma Dodds (@Sports_EmmaD) September 30, 2021
One can only hope that UEFA will, upon seeing literal children engage in targetted racial abuse, finally start to take racism seriously. Stadium bans are not punishment enough. We need to see fines in the realm of millions of Euros and, most importantly, we need to see points being docked.
The punishment must be so severe that these degenerates are forced out of the game, they must not feel as though FIFA and UEFA will handle them with kid gloves, they must know that they will receive the harshest possible punishment, otherwise not only will they continue to abuse every black and brown player they come across, but they will teach their children to do it as well.
Racism cannot be tolerated, Sparta must be docked points. FIFA and UEFA have to do better.
I hoped stadium closure to Sparta Prague fans for their racial abuse of Monaco's Tchouameni & invite to 10,000 kids would mean that @GlenKamara4 & all the other black players @RangersFC didn’t have to face racism, no such luck tonight as the kid’s carried on the abuse-shameful pic.twitter.com/yNvaX4WWvU
— Aamer Anwar🎗✊🏽#BlackLivesMatter (@AamerAnwar) September 30, 2021
2. From Basmati Busquets to Long grain Lampard
Declan Rice’s evolution from sort of ok sitting midfielder into a dynamic all-conquering midfield force is unfolding before our eyes in real time. It’s rare for such an evolution to take place so massively in matches themselves, usually a player knuckles down over a summer and comes back looking like a new player. But we’ve gotten to witness Rice add strings to his bow every week it seems.
Tonight he was the match-winner, making a supremely-timed run off the ball as West Ham were moving the ball around elsewhere. He surged into the box and so, when Andriy Yarmolenko’s cross found Michail Antonio, the no. 9 had an easy option to square it for a tap-in… to Rice! That’s right, the Basmati Busquets turned into the Long grain Lampard and won a European game for West Ham!
Declan Rice's game by numbers vs. Rapid Wien:
78% pass accuracy
64 touches (most)
5 long balls attempted
2 headers won
2 shots (=most)
Fantastic display. 👏 pic.twitter.com/iOnPu1EUMd
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 30, 2021
3. Napoli hand Leicester a lifeline
Leicester followed up their credible draw with Napoli on matchday one with a mostly anaemic defeat against Legia Warsaw. It was really quite bad and had the added problem of giving Legia a perfect two wins from two games. And given that only the group winners are guaranteed to go through and Napoli were playing Spartak Moscow at home, this is where it got real bad for the Foxes, right?
Because Napoli inexplicably lost 1-3 at home! Luciano Spalletti’s men who are flying high atop Serie A were forced to play the last hour of the game with 10 men after Mario Rui’s red card. They were 1-0 up at the time of the sending off and held their lead until the second-half, when Quincy Promes ignited Spartak. Three goals later, Napoli were in a hole even goal machine Victor Osimhen couldn’t shoot them out of.
Quincy Promes' game by numbers vs. Napoli:
89% pass accuracy
5 crosses attempted
4 chances created (most)
3 take ons (=most)
Sensational from Promes. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/8OG2peupvX
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 30, 2021
The defeat means that Napoli remain on one point, level with Leicester. This gives the Foxes a massively undeserved lifeline, now we just have to see if they take it.
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4. Celtic humbled again
Celtic were unfortunately in many ways because drawing both Real Betis and Bayer Leverkusen in the same Champions League group. Those are genuinely great sides and the two resulting defeats probably didn’t surprise anyone. Their fast start against Betis was a true false dawn as since then they’ve conceded 8 goals and scored just the once.
As bad as the Betis game was, Leverkusen came to Celtic Park and annihilated the Bhoys. And what’s worse is that this is the fifth time in their last six Europa League group stage matches that they’ve conceded four goals. Sparta stuck four on them twice, as did AC Milan and then of course Betis and now Leverkusen. Only Lille got less than a quartet, scoring just twice as Celtic won 3-2.
Obviously football goes in cycles but right now Celtic look a million miles away from being ready to compete in the Europa League.
Celtic have conceded 4 goals in five of their last six #UEL games:
4 vs Sparta Prague (H)
4 vs Sparta Prague (A)
4 vs Milan
2 vs Lille
4 vs Real Betis
4 vs Bayer Leverkusen
Battered and Bruised. 🤕 pic.twitter.com/FSwjViNKdj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 30, 2021
5. Spurs’ shameful subs could pay huge dividends?
Spurs had beaten Mura within 10 minutes after two early goals put them out of sight. But Nuno’s men didn’t blow their Slovenian visitors away, allowing them to hangt about and even get a goal back through a shamelessly world-class volley from Ziga Kous.
Suddenly there was a bit of panic among the Spurs ranks, and within 10 minutes Nuno had to resort to the shame of bringing Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura off the bench. That looked so embarrassing, but in the end it might pay huge dividends.
That’s because Harry Kane bagged a second-half hat-trick, with Lucas and Son each getting an assist. Now obviously Mura are miles below Harry Kane’s level, so the hat-trick isn’t necessarily instructive in and of itself, but the confidence Kane could take from this could be absolutely massive for Nuno’s men. A motivated and driven Harry Kane is a top five striker on the planet, can this get him there? If so then you have to say that Nuno’s subs which appeared to be an embarrassment might just save Spurs’ season.