Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images

Europa League wrap: Rangers lose thriller, 7 sides advance

Leave a comment

Seven teams clinched spots in the knockout rounds as the fourth match day of the Europa League group stage played out around Europe.

[ MORE: Welbeck injured | Full standings ]

Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea are joined by Eintracht Frankfurt, Lazio, Dinamo Zagreb, Bayer Leverkusen, and FC Zurich as clubs to reach the next stage with two matches remaining in this one.

Spartak Moscow 4-3 Rangers

There was no quit from Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers against their desperate hosts, but despite leading 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, the Glaswegian side allowed goals in the 58th and 59th minutes to sink from the top of Group G to third.

Rangers are a point behind Villarreal, who they host on Nov. 29, and one above last place Rapid Vienna. Spartak has five points and the tiebreaker on the Scottish side with two matches to play.

Celtic 2-1 RB Leipzig

Now this is a statement moment for the Scotland’s Premiership, as Brendan Rodgers‘ men overcame a late equalizer within a minute to earn a big three points against the Bundesliga visitors.

Kieran Tierney scored in the 11th minute, but Jean-Kevin Augustin quelled the excitement at Celtic Park in the 78th minute. Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard scored in the 78th to keep hopes of the knockout rounds alive.

Celtic next visits 0-4 Rosenborg before finishing at home to 4-0 Red Bull Salzburg, who may have nothing at stake.

Full results
Fenerbahce 2-0 Anderlecht
Astana 2-1 Jablonec
Lazio 2-1 Marseille
Malmo 1-1 Sarpsborg 08
Genk 1-1 Besiktas
Dynamo Kiev 3-1 Stade Rennes
Rapid Vienna 0-0 Villarreal
BATE Borisov 0-1 Chelsea — RECAP
MOL Vidi 1-0 PAOK
Apollon Limassol 2-3 Eintracht Frankfurt
Krasnodar 2-1 Standard Liege
Akhisar Belediyespor 2-3 Sevilla
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 FC Zurich
Real Betis 1-1 AC Milan
Slavia Prague 0-0 Copenhagen
Dinamo Zagreb 3-1 Spartak Trnava
Rosenborg 2-5 Red Bull Salzburg
Vorskla Poltava 0-1 Qarabag
Arsenal 0-0 Sporting Lisbon — RECAP
Olympiacos 5-1 F91 Dudelange
Bordeaux 1-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Ludogorets 0-0 AEK Larnaca

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea aim to stay perfect

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal and Chelsea will both clinch their Europa League groups with victories on Thursday.

The Gunners are at home to face a Sporting Lisbon side it defeated in Portugal two weeks ago, while the Blues head to Belarus for a rematch with BATE Borisov.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

Chelsea will use Eden Hazard, but has left Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata, Marcos Alonso, David Luiz, Toni Rudiger and Victor Moses back in London. Here’s manager Maurizio Sarri:

“Sometimes it’s better for the players to train rather than just play, to train on some particular physical qualities. If they only play they will lose that physical quality they need, and that’s been proved scientifically over a 21-day period.”

Arsenal will use Alex Iwobi in its match, the Nigerian playing very well in Unai Emery‘s system.

Iwobi credits Emery’s training sessions:

“Unai’s very intense in training and he’s demanding because he knows how good we are. He always wants us to be at 100 per cent, giving our best. It’s not just him, though. We know what we expect from each other, so we’re also trying to get the best out of each other in training.”

Up in Scotland, the Old Firm rivals are facing markedly different challenges on Thursday.

Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers are in Russia to face a group-bottom Spartak Moscow who can leapfrog their visitors with a win. And Celtic needs to attack after losing at RB Leipzig, with the Bundesliga side visiting with a three-point advantage on the third place Bhoys

Full schedule

10:50 a.m. ET
Fenerbahce vs. Anderlecht
Astana vs. Jablonec

12:55 p.m. ET
Spartak Moscow vs. Rangers
Lazio vs. Marseille
Malmo vs. Sarpsborg 08
Genk vs. Besiktas
Dynamo Kiev vs. Stade Rennes
Rapid Vienna vs. Villarreal
BATE Borisov vs. Chelsea
MOL Vidi vs. PAOK
Apollon Limassol vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Krasnodar vs. Standard Liege
Akhisar Belediyespor vs. Sevilla

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. FC Zurich
Real Betis vs. AC Milan
Slavia Prague vs. Copenhagen
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Spartak Trnava
Rosenborg vs. Red Bull Salzburg
Vorskla Poltava vs. Qarabag
Arsenal vs. Sporting Lisbon
Celtic vs. RB Leipzig
Olympiacos vs. F91 Dudelange
Bordeaux vs. Zenit St. Petersburg
Ludogorets vs. AEK Larnaca

Gerrard: “Big result” to come back twice at Villarreal

Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard remains unbeaten as a manager in Europe after his toughest test yet.

The Rangers boss watched his team go down 1-0 to Villarreal after less than a minute of their Europa League group stage debut, but ended up collecting a pair of equalizers and an impressive 2-2 draw in Spain.

[ MORE: PAOK 0-1 Chelsea ]

“It’s a big result and that’s always the way, my experience in Europe, you have to come away and get something,” Gerrard said on BT Sport.

“Obviously we came here to try and win the game and we nearly did through Scott Arfield at the end. We nearly lost it as well. They pushed, which is understandable but it’s a big point for us. Now we’ve got a home game and if we can take maximum points it’s a terrific start to the group.”

Adversity was there for Rangers, from Carlos Bacca’s first minute marker to conceding a second goal two minutes after Scott Arfield made it 1-1. But the Glaswegian side answered the ball through Kyle Lafferty.

Playmaker Daniel Candeias has plenty of praise for Gerrard. From Rangers.co.uk:

“When we finished the first half, the gaffer said in the dressing room to believe in ourselves and get a great result,” Candeias said. “I know we didn’t win, but a draw is a good result for us.”

Rangers will host Rapid Vienna on Oct. 4 in their second Group G match. Rapid beat Spartak Moscow 2-0 on Thursday.

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea debut; Red Bull Derby (of sorts)

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
Leave a comment

The Europa League group stage begins Thursday, with two London giants taking part in a relatively unfamiliar competition.

[ MORE: Full Europa League schedule ]

Both Arsenal and Chelsea have played in the tournament finals in recent years, but for the most part are Champions League mainstays.

This season, however, it’s the UEL leading one to Greece and the other to a visit from a Ukrainian side.

Both are involved in our five matches to monitor amongst the 48-team field on Day 1.

5 (tie). Villarreal vs. Rangers / Celtic vs. Rosenborg

The Old Firm rivals with plenty to prove kick off their group stages on Wednesday, in turn saying something for Scottish football.

For Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers, that means the chance to make good on their first full European tournament since the 2010-11 Europa League. They took the long way, winning four qualifying rounds to earn these nights. Now what? Perhaps their toughest test yet in Villarreal.

For Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic, it’s an opportunity to show that while the Champions League has been a bit too rich for their blood, a Europa League group stage with Austrian, German, and Norwegian competition isn’t a problem for the best team in Scotland.

4. Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Forget the opposition: Unai Emery sees the Europa League as the opportunity to put more silverware in the halls of Arsenal HQ. From Arsenal.com:

“Every title for us is very important. In 2000, Arsenal played the final against Galatasaray but didn’t win. And also, Arsenal played the final in 2006 in the Champions League and also didn’t win. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward.”

There’s no reason to expect anything but a win for the Gunners against a team in just its second European group stage.

3. Marseille vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Frank McCourt’s Olympique Marseille still doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with the manager. Rudi Garcia’s Olympique Marseille has a lot of weapons, including a trio of World Cup winners in Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin, and Adil Rami. Their Bundesliga visitors feature a Mexican national teamer (Carlos Salcedo) and an American (Timothy Chandler), but eyes will be trained on a Frenchman: Sebastian Heller has three goals and an assist in three league appearances this season.

2. PAOK vs. Chelsea

With all respect to Vieirinha and Amr Warda, this shouldn’t be a major challenge for Maurizio Sarri‘s men. Yes, even with Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz being rested in London.

But it gets our circle because Sarri has called it the most difficult challenge of their group stage. BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi (formerly Videoton) are the other members of Group L. From ChelseaFC.com:

“I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.

“We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.”

1. RB Leipzig vs. Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA would prefer to avoid matches like this, even presumably one-sided ones, as two clubs owned by Red Bull square off in a meaningful competition. The pair being in the same group will be even trickier when there are chances to affect the next round fate of their brother club (The clubs aren’t technically deemed to have the same ownership, but it’s difficult to conclude the relationship isn’t a healthy one).

Celtic extend Old Firm streak with win over Gerrard’s Rangers

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard‘s first taste of the Old Firm Derby is quite sour.

Rangers were well-drilled in its visit to Celtic Park on Sunday, but Olivier Ntcham‘s 62nd minute goal extended Celtic’s unbeaten derby run into an eighth season.

[ MORE: Serie A: Cristiano Ronaldo still scoreless, but Juventus still perfect ]

The match was full of fouls, hard tackles, and struck cross bars, as both teams threatened the goal but Celtic controlled play.

The win moves Celtic to 3-1 on the season, three points back of leaders Hearts. Rangers are now seven points back of first.

Ntcham is a former Man City player, and capped off a tremendous counter attack to put Celtic in front. Tom Rogic started the play on the edge of the Celtic area, and both Odsonne Edouard and James Forrest played parts in setting up Ntcham.

Ryan Christie dove to win a free kick from Connor Goldson on the edge of the 18, but Allan McGregor made an outstanding save to deny Chris Griffith’s solid effort.