Thursday saw matchday three of this season’s Europa League group phase get underway with no fewer than 12 matches kicking off at 8pm.
Earlier in the day Tottenham Hotspur left Bulgaria with a 1-3 win over Ludogorets, in-form marksman Harry Kane once again on song to register his 200th goal for his boyhood club, whilst Son Heung-Min grabbed an assist 15 seconds after coming on as a second half substitute.
Meanwhile across the continent Glasgow Rangers came from behind at Benfica to lead 1-3, but Portugal’s record champions despite finding themselves a man down rallied and ultimately the spoils were shared.
A number of high-profile clubs — such as Arsenal, Leicester City and AC Milan — were looking to get one step closer to qualifying for the knockout phase this evening. With so much happening it’s only natural if you miss an important or memorable event.
But don’t worry, Squawka is here, with eight things you might have missed from tonight’s games..
Before today Molde had never faced English opposition, let alone playing in the nation where football was born, so history-making was on the cards if they were inspired. Arsenal have quietly gone about their business this season, the Gunners were perfect after the opening two Europa League rounds, but so were today’s visitors and very few could have predicted Erling Moe’s breaking the deadlock.
It was a special effort to put the Norwegian side in front. Martin Ellingsen, who found himself in plenty of space courtesy of Arsenal’s nonexistent midfield, unleashed an effort from distance an unfortunate bounce meant Bernd Leno was bamboozled though in the grander scheme of things the 25-year-old midfielder created a small piece of history as he becomes the first Molde player to score on English soil.
Jamie Vardy’s irresistible form and Brendan Rodgers reluctance to play a two-striker system, which ironically led to Leicester City winning an unprecedented Premier League title, has often left Kelechi Iheanacho looking on from the outside. He’s only made three league appearances to date, starting just one game, plus a further two in Europe though it’s on Thursday’s when he’s shone real bright.
The Foxes opening game against Ukranian outfit Zorya Lugansk saw the Nigerian marksman score and create another two goals as they ran out 4-0 winners. He was effective again this evening scoring a brace and producing another goal at Braga’s expense as Rodger’s men secured an impressive 3-0 win. Iheanacho’s first was expertly created by James Maddison, another who’s gone under the radar, though in the Englishman’s case it’s been case of lacking fitness, but it’s fair to say he’s now starting to hit his stride illustrated by him scoring their fourth.
Yazıcı runs wild
It’s often said form is temporary, Lille midfielder Yusuf Yazıcı is hoping this rich vein in front of goal continues for as long as possible, across his opening 30 appearances for the Ligue 1 outfit in all competitions he’d could only muster one strike. But whatever he’s been doing lately it’s working, coming into today’s game against AC Milan the Turkish international had registered four goals across five games, in the blink of an eye Yazıcı bagged a second hat-trick of the season.
To say the Rossoneri were left shell-shocked by this showing would be an accurate description of events. His first came from the spot, on another day it might not have been given, though he wasn’t going to pass this up. And straight after the break Yazıcı struck twice in as three minutes to leave Zlatan and company scratching their heads. It’s also the first time Milan had conceded as many goals in a European home game since November 2011 when Barcelona left with a 2-3 win.
No mercy in Bern
AS Roma will fancy their chances of topping Group A but the competition to finish behind them is hotting up. Cluj’s humiliating 5-0 loss in the Eternal City allowed Young Boys and CSKA Sofia — who both started today level with one point apiece — a great opportunity of ending the night behind Paulo Fonseca’s side who now sit on seven points. And it was the Swiss outfit that sensationally seized the day.
Felix Mambimbi netted with the game just two minutes old before former Ajax and Benfica star Miralem Sulejmani doubled their lead quarter of an hour later. Mambimbi got his second of the game shortly after, by now all three points were sealed, terrible defending by their Bulgarian opponents should give them pause for thought in the return fixture as another similar performance enhances their chances of playing knockout football.
There’s a genuine excitement watching a young footballer at the beginning of their journey and someone worth keeping an eye on is Bukayo Saka who’s ascent in north London has been nothing short of breathtaking. A winger by trade, he was utilised in a host of positions last season most noteworthy stepping in at left-back when Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac were not available, but now he’s predominantly featured in the final third.
Saka, who now dons the club’s fabled number 7 jersey, played a role in their comeback win over Molde, after fellow academy graduate Joe Willock forced Sheriff Sinyan into scoring an own goal the 19-year-old found Pepe to put Mikel Arteta’s side in front. It was his 14th assist in all competitions since the start of the 2019/20 season, to put that in some perspective no Premier League teenager has produced more in that period.
Celtic on the brink
Group H’s strugglers Celtic and Sparta Prague met in Glasgow this evening and while the hosts went into this contest feeling confident about posting their first win of this Europa League season they came in for a rude awakening. It was yet another disappointing European night for Scotland’s perennial champions who found themselves on the backfoot at half-time as their Czech visitors raced into a 0-2 lead.
Things didn’t get any better in the following 45 minutes; Lukas Julis completed a well-earned hat-trick after Leigh Griffiths pulled one back, which proved to be Neil Lennon’s side’s only bright spot as Ladislav Krejci completed the rout in the 90th minute. This disappointing result leaves the Glaswegian giants on a single point heading into matchday four and few now expect them escaping Group H.
The biggest winners of the night (literally) were Hoffenheim who are not messing about. They were perfect before today and that 100% record was maintained with minimal ease as they steamrolled a hapless Liberec side. Sebastian Hoeneß’s team only led 2-0 at half-time, Munas Dabbur bagging a brace, though were more profitable after the break scoring three goals in the space of 17 minutes. Hoeneß nevertheless should be disappointed as his men had no fewer than 24 shots on goal so this return was too little.
But in all seriousness they’re in full command of Group L with nine points, three ahead of Red Star Belgrade, but more impressive the Bundesliga outfit have 11 goals in the ‘for’ column whilst shipping in just the one ‘against’. If they can repeat this performance in the return fixture then Hoffenheim can look forward to knockout football after the winter break.
Feyenoord in the end didn’t really need their mercurial skipper to get on the scoresheet against CSKA Moscow as they ran out 3-1 winners at De Kuip to register their first Europa League won of the campaign but if Steven Berghuis did have his scoring boots on then Dick Advocaat’s men could have inflicted heavy damage on their Russian foes. The 28-year-old Dutch forward registered no fewer than five shots on target which incidentally makes him the first (and only) player in this season’s competition to produce that many efforts without netting in a single game.
In fact across Europe’s major club competitions the last player to achieve this unlucky feat was Alvaro Morata in December 2017, that being said Berghuis created the Rotterdammers first goal of the evening and by adding two more Feyenoord have for the first time since December 2006 (3-1 v Wisla Krakow) managed to score three goals in European competition at home.