Is Conte’s Spurs squad actually any good?
This was a quite bonkers night in which neither Tottenham nor Vitesse wanted to defend, and then neither wished to keep their discipline.
In some ways, it was very unlike what you’ve come to expect from Antonio Conte, who called for stability in his first interview as Spurs manager and went strong for his first game in charge, aware of what was stake in this competition, irrespective of being keen to make a first good impression.
For the opening 30 minutes he must have thought this was a very simple job in reinvigorating Tottenham. Three unanswered goals had Vitesse reeling as they couldn’t cope with Spurs’ swift transitions down both flanks. Ben Davies and Cristian Romero were carrying the ball out from defence and Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were controlling midfield.
And then, it all unravelled, reminding Conte of the size of the task ahead. Eric Dier was beaten far too easily at the set play for the Dutch side’s first reply and when Lucas Moura was caught trying to be too elaborate playing out from the back, it would seem too simplistic to say the state of Spurs’ implosion was down to a lingering lack of confidence.
But those insecurities which plagued the tail-end of Nuno Espirito Santo’s tenure certainly then came roaring back as Conte grew increasingly agitated on the touchline. Romero’s red card added to the sense of angst and Spurs were in the end indebted to Hugo Lloris’ brilliance on two occasions before Vitesse lost their cool.
“Those who know me very well know I don’t like this type of crazy game,” Conte said. “I want a stable team and when there is the possibility to kill the opponent you must kill. For sure my team showed me great commitment and resilience. This team needed to win by also suffering.”
It was some start to the new era, and question marks remain over just how good the players are at Conte’s disposal, but Tottenham fans won’t mind if they always end up winning under their vibrant new head coach.
Benrahma continues to shine for Hammers
After going into half-time 1-0 behind in Genk, having made a slow start, West Ham needed an attacking spark. They had their chances towards the end of the first period, but given their form this season, David Moyes knew his side had more in the locker.
A tactical tweak saw Benrahma go through the middle, having started over on the right, and almost immediately from the restart, he tested Genk’s midfield. It was one the hosts did not really pass with flying colours, as he became the focal point of the Hammers attack.
Both of his goals were superbly taken too. The first saw him in the right place at the right time, sweeping home Vladimir Coufal’s cut-back. There was a wonderful celebration with Kurt Zouma by the dugout, which was not dampened by a VAR check for offside.
Then came a superb solo goal. He easily beat Mujaid Sadick on the right before slotting home through the goalkeeper’s legs on a tight angle – only a striker with real confidence could finish in such a manner.
It was a fractious first season at West Ham, not joining until mid-October and only starting in 16 games across all competitions and just one goal scored. But he has transformed himself into an integral part of Moyes’ squad. He has started in all 10 Premier League games so far and in the two Europa League matches he has started, he has found the net.
Moyes said of his player after the game: “I thought Said played well tonight. He did a lot of good things which in recent games I’ve not been so sure, and getting a couple of goals will help him, so good on him.”
He almost saved a West Ham side that conceded their first Europa League goals – one of which was a horrible own-goal from Tomas Soucek – and were held to a draw for the first time in competition too.
But courtesy of Dinamo Zagreb’s win against Rapid Vienna, West Ham have secured their spot in the knockout rounds for the first time in 40 years. Here’s hoping Benrahma can continue to shine in Europe well into 2022.
Rangers keep Euro dreams alive ahead of Sparta showdown
Ianis Hagi’s well-taken second-half strike that earned Rangers a deserved point at Brondby has kept alive the Scottish Premiership champions’ hope of finishing second in Group A and so earning a playoff with a third-placed Champions League team to make the last 16 of the Europa League.
And that would be some recovery for Steven Gerrard’s side after they lost their opening two group games at home to leaders Lyon and second-placed Sparta Prague.
However, Thursday’s point in Denmark has moved Rangers level with the Czechs, setting up a potential decider for the runners-up spot when the two teams meet at Ibrox on November 25.
Celtic are starting to click at the perfect time
Two games against Ferencvaros are just what the doctor ordered for a Celtic side staring down the barrel of an early elimination from Europe and embarrassment in Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge.
From rock bottom and without a point, the Bhoys now have their destiny in their own hands and know two more wins will guarantee them, at least, a place in the play-off round of the Europa League, and even two defeats will now take them into the Europa Conference League knock-outs.
What a perfect time for Celtic to conjure up their first away win in Europe since November 2019 – perhaps setting themselves up perfectly to make it two in a row against group leaders Bayer Leverkusen after the international break.
This victory should not be underplayed, either. Although Ferencvaros are far from top-class European opposition, the Groupama Arena is not a welcoming stage for visiting sides and even with that, Celtic looked confident and could have scored more than the three goals they put past their hosts.
Six wins from seven, and a blip against Livingston on Saturday, suggests Postecoglou is starting to get the best out of his new team, and some of their new arrivals are gelling too.
Kyogo Furuhashi’s feint and shot for the opener would be sublime at any level, and better sides than Ferencvaros would struggle to defend the inch-perfect ball he played through for Liel Abada’s third either. In fact, it was a trio of goals from summer arrivals with Benfica loanee Jota, the pick of the Bhoys’ season so far, also on target.
It will still be a big ask for Celtic to reach the play-off round or last-16 with two difficult matches to come, and at least four points likely required.
After a slow start, they are doing as much as they can. And with their tails up, you never know.
Same problems rear their head for Leicester
There was almost a sense of déjà vu for Leicester on Thursday. After a raucous 4-3 victory in Russia two weeks ago, the return leg was a more subdued affair but Spartak Moscow still managed to expose the Foxes’ weaknesses.
Mikhail Ignatov was easily played in down the right, and despite there being plenty of blue shirts in the area, none were near Victor Moses as he swept his header home early in the second half. It was Spartak’s only shot on target of the game.
The goal meant it was another game that went by without a Leicester clean sheet. They have kept just one in their last 15 games and none in each of their last nine games in all competitions. They have not managed a shutout in the Europa League this season.
Leicester captain Kasper Schmeichel said he wasn’t too sure why they were struggling to keep clean sheets, but they were working hard to figure it out. His manager however offered his own thoughts.
“For me, it is simple. It is about running, you have to run,” Brendan Rodgers told BT Sport. “We conceded a second goal here against Arsenal when we did not track the run. So it’s pretty straight forward, you have to run, you have to work, you have to do the dirty side of the game.
1 – Leicester have won just one of their last six games in the UEFA Europa League (D3 L2), while failing to keep a clean sheet in each of the last five. Stuttering.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 4, 2021
“It’s not always with the ball, you’ve got to be able to play against the ball. If you don’t run it makes it difficult for you.”
At the other end, Leicester had plenty of chances. Boubakary Soumare and Kelechi Iheanacho hit the crossbar, while Jamie Vardy saw a poor penalty by his standards saved by the Spartak goalkeeper.
But you feel like we have seen this before from Leicester. A leaky defence coupled with a lack of cutting edge sees them with just six wins from 16 games across all competitions this season, and just one in the Europa League.
Rodgers’ job is far from being in danger and in a tight group, Leicester can still make it to the knockout rounds. But against Legia Warsaw and in a daunting away trip to Napoli, they have to drastically improve.