Memphis Depay

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Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Van Persie called into Dutch squad

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David Villa isn’t the only former national team great to get a recall this international break.

Former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie was called in by Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat, marking his return to international play, where he last made an appearance back in October of 2015.

The 34-year-old currently plays for Turkish club Fenerbahce, where he’s made a pair of league starts to little impact. He played 67 minutes in a 2-2 season opening draw against Goztepe, and then was yanked at halftime of Fenerbahce’s 2-2 draw with Trabzonspor, failing to register a goal or assist in both games.

[ MORE: Manchester United vs. Leicester City preview ]

Despite his struggles with form and fitness, Advocaat said Van Persie may the best the Netherlands has got.

“I still think he is one of the best strikers we have,” Advocaat said in the squad announcement. “He can make a very important contribution to the Dutch team.”

The Netherlands is in significant trouble in European qualification Group A, where they sit in an elimination position of third place with 10 points, three points back of both Sweden and France. The top team in the group automatically qualifies for the 2018 World Cup, while the second-place group must traverse a playoff game, or even risk straight elimination if enough points are not obtained.

Other forwards on the squad include Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyon), Bas Dost (Sporting Lisbon), Vincent Janssen (Tottenham Hotspur), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), and Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).

Since the 2014 World Cup, Van Persie has three goals for the Dutch national team in 10 appearances. He made his national team debut in 2005, garnering 101 appearances and 50 goals.

Chelsea sells Traore to Lyon for $11 million

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Chelsea has officially sold exciting attacker Betrand Traore to Lyon.

Traore, 21, spent last season on loan at Ajax, helping the club to the UEFA Europa League Final.

The 40-times capped Burkina Faso winger scored four goals in 16 appearances for Chelsea in 2015-16, and has 22 goals in loan seasons to Vitesse and Ajax.

[ MORE: Ranking expectations for PL bosses ]

The fee is said to be more than $11 million. Traore joined Chelsea’s academy in 2010 after coming up with Auxerre.

Chelsea will earn 15 percent of any future sale of Traore, and also have the right of first refusal should another team make an offer for the attacker.

Lyon currently has held onto Alexandre Lacazette, and has Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay and captain Maxime Gonalons amongst its stars. Adding Traore will only help the club’s ambitions in Ligue 1 as well as the Europa League.

Lyon and Bastia match marred by fan attacks on players

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A game between Lyon and SC Bastia in Corsica will be played, despite Lyon players being attacked by home fans during pre-match warmups.

It was initially reported that Lyon players and coaches had refused to play after fans poured onto the field during warmups and attacked Lyon players, including Memphis Depay and goalkeeper Mathieu Gorgelin. However, the LFP – the French league governing body – has announced the match will indeed be played, forcing Lyon back out onto the field.

With the players warming up during pre-match ceremonies, Bastia fans began to kick balls into the goal manned by Lyon backup goalkeeper Gorgelin. Depay then approached the fans to ask them to stop, and one fan entered the field and approached the Dutch winger. As security swarmed that one fan, the rest spilled onto the field and began to swarm the players.

During the scrum, television cameras caught one fan throw a punch at Gorgelin.

Initially, it was announced that due to the incident, the kickoff was delayed by 15 minutes. However, the players were eventually convinced by both Bastia and the LFP to come back out of the tunnel and play the game. Eventually, they did emerge, embraced by club president Jean-Michel Aulas, and continued to warm up. The majority of the home fans applauded as the Lyon players returned to the field, according to reports.

According to reports, the supporter group “Bastia 1905” made up the majority of the fans who spilled onto the field. The video shows fans clearly outnumbered security by a large margin. Soccer in France has become known for its recent inability to prevent fan violence both inside and outside the stadium on matchdays.

UPDATE: There was more trouble at halftime as a person engaged the Lyon goalkeeper, and a steward caused trouble with a defender. They have not decided if the match will continue.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.