Classy Elliott close to Liverpool starting spot
It feels as if there is one place up for grabs in Liverpool’s three-player midfield. New signings Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister have their spots secured – so why can’t Harvey Elliott take the other?
Watching him against LASK, you wonder why the midfielder has not started more in the Premier League under Jurgen Klopp, with Elliot used just once from the off since August.
No player created more chances than Elliott against the Austrian side on Thursday night, while he ended the game with the most completed final third passes.
The 20-year-old made Liverpool’s right flank impossible to play against, adding more threat to Mohamed Salah’s game while even making makeshift right-back Joe Gomez – who equalled Elliott for chances created against LASK – look dangerous.
Yes, this was only LASK – who gave Elliott the time and space to hurt their defence by playing so aggressively against Klopp’s side. But the Liverpool midfielder has shown more glimpses of quality than just this Europa League game.
There have been the classy, late assists away at Luton and Wolves – while he has five goals and two assists in five England U21 qualifying games. Elliott is certainly knocking on the door.
Hammers nail it in Europe again
West Ham were far from their best in Serbia yet found a way to win again. It’s a knack they have mastered in Europe.
Tomas Soucek’s late winner meant they have scored in 20 successive European games, winning 18 and losing just once. Only Real Madrid can match West Ham’s record in Europe since the start of the 2021-22 season.
They had just one shot on target – seven in total – until Soucek pounced at the end of a dismal team performance at Group A’s rock-bottom side. West Ham only managed fewer shots against Gent in those 20 games.
They are a now point away from reaching the Europa League last 16 having already secured knockout football in Europe for a third consecutive season.
“Sometimes it’s good to win a game late,” said David Moyes. It’s good to win when playing badly too. That’s two in two games after their turnaround at Burnley.
The feeling around this West Ham team is they are yet to reach their potential. Perhaps they will reach it on the way to another European trophy.
Villa strengthening but Watkins is a worry
Alex Moreno has had to be patient in waiting for the right moment for his return, having been an unused substitute in each of Aston Villa’s previous four games prior to his spectacular impact against Legia Warsaw. It was fitting that he scored the winner.
The nature of it was surprising – a right-footed volley. He did not even score a goal for Villa last season when he was establishing himself as the team’s best option out on the left. Lucas Digne has deputised well but having a fit and in-form Moreno will help Unai Emery.
So too will goals from Moussa Diaby. The onus was on him in the absence of Ollie Watkins and the forward made an impact almost instantly with the opening goal at Villa Park. The Frenchman has been fantastic since signing from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer.
His pace is obvious but his touch in scoring his fourth goal of the season was superb too. Emery will want to see more of that. His only goals since scoring on his debut have come against Luton and Burnley. But Diaby is capable of being a scorer as well as a supplier.
That could be needed if Watkins is not ready for the weekend. At least Jhon Duran had minutes. “It is important to get players feeling in good rhythm to help us,” said Emery. “If he continues in this way he can show us his potential.” But Villa still need their main man.
Hinshelwood on course to be Brighton’s next big thing
In making his European debut against AEK Athens, Brighton’s Jack Hinshelwood became the youngest English player to start a Europa League match since Jude Bellingham.
In fact, the Brighton teenager was exactly the same age as the now-Real Madrid midfielder – 18 years and 233 days old – when Bellingham set that record in February 2022.
Many Brighton fans would not have had Hinshelwood in their starting team on Thursday night – especially after the 18-year-old gave away a penalty at Nottingham Forest last weekend while playing in an unnatural left-back role.
But despite having James Milner fit again as a left-back option, Hinshelwood was given a big show of faith by Roberto De Zerbi by putting him in defence again – and it paid off.
Against AEK, the teenager won more possessions in the middle and defensive third (four and five) than any of the players on the pitch. De Zerbi gave Hinshelwood praise at full-time.
“Jack Hinshelwood is a top player, already a top player,” he said. “Because he plays with personality, courage and leadership – because he’s a leader.
“He’s another Lewis Dunk, another Pascal Gross, another Danny Welbeck or Adam Lallana. He’s unlucky because I have many players with spirit, with the right passion and soul.”
Do not be surprised if the name Jack Hinshelwood is the next big thing to come out of Brighton.
Off-colour Rangers miss golden opportunity
On paper, the visit of Aris Limassol to Ibrox was Rangers’ easiest Group C fixture. It could not have come at a better time either with Philippe Clement’s side needing a win to secure their place in the Europa League knockout rounds.
But the course of football qualification never does run smooth. Aris have proved to be the Gers’ bogey team, losing in the first fixture in Cyprus and now battling to a 1-1 draw on Thursday that only increases the trepidation ahead of a tricky trip to Real Betis in a fortnight.
A number of players looked off-colour. Jose Cifuentes and Sam Lammers struggled. Up front, Danilo could not quite find his efforts on target. Incoming centre-backs John Souttar and Ben Davies were too easily carved open for Aris’ goal.
Todd Cantwell too was deemed to not be playing in the right way, as Clement said after the game, and was hooked for Rangers’ new star Ross McCausland in the first half. The 20-year-old was vital in helping the hosts come away with a point, and not just for his equaliser alone.
But on the positive side, Rangers remain unbeaten under their new manager and the result does see them assured of at least Europa Conference League football in 2024. Even on a off day, they still managed to come from behind to take a point.
However, there needs to be a real improvement – especially in attack – if Rangers are to get a result in Seville to keep them in the Europa League into the New Year.