Europa League hits and misses: Spurs fringe players don't make cut

Here we go again with Spurs fringe players

Despite eight changes from Saturday’s draw at Chelsea it appeared table-topping Spurs’ starting line-up would, on paper at least, have more than enough to deal with a Lask side humbled 7-1 on aggregate by Manchester United in last season’s Europa League.

With a Premier League-winning goalkeeper between the sticks, one of the world’s most expensive players in attack and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele, two of Tottenham’s best performers this season all starting, the point Jose Mourinho’s side needed seemed a relative formality.

  • Lask 3-3 Tottenham – Match report and ratings
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

Mourinho had laid into his second-string side after their defeat in Antwerp two games ago, but could be nothing but impressed with their 4-0 demolition of Ludogorets last week.

Back to square one, then, as Spurs were left holding on to a point in Austria, with the hosts’ commitment and intensity more than matching the Premier League visitors’ apparently superior ability.

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Mourinho held back a little this time. “The only good thing I take from the game is that we are qualified,” he told reporters after the game, but 16 years after he first moved to these shores we know exactly what that means.

After the Antwerp defeat, he said his players had made his life “very easy” picking a starting line-up for Tottenham’s next game, and he selected only four of that 11 in Austria on Thursday. But after another opportunity to impress largely wasted, the number of players he truly trusts may be smaller than ever.
Ron Walker

Tottenham fixtures

Sun Dec 6: Arsenal (h)

Thurs Dec 10: Antwerp (h)

Sun Dec 13: Crystal Palace (a)

Wed Dec 16: Liverpool (a)

Sun Dec 20: Leicester (h)

Ndidi shines, Ricardo returns, Soyuncu setback

Although Leicester still needed to secure top spot in Group G, the main aim for their trip to eastern Ukraine would have been to nurse back Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu and Wilfred Ndidi into the first-team fold.

It was a mixed night in that regard.

Leicester were asked to do plenty of defending in the early stages and perhaps the overworked nature was the reason which caused Soyuncu’s injury on 16 minutes. It looked a simple enough piece of defending but he immediately signalled to the bench holding his groin as a recurrence of the injury that kept him out for eight weeks resurfaced.

  • Match report and ratings – FC Zorya 1-0 Leicester

There was better news regarding Ricardo, who played 45 minutes, and Ndidi.

“He is one of the best full-backs in European football,” Brendan Rodgers said on Ricardo’s return. And although there wasn’t the usual rampaging runs we expect from him, he was given a good workout defensively on his first start for nine months after a serious knee injury. This was a good starting point for him but a Premier League start still looks a few weeks away and he was replaced at the break by Luke Thomas.

Meanwhile, Ndidi slotted back in like he’d never been away. One perfect example came on 25 minutes when breaking up a dangerous attack with a typically robust but fair challenge in midfield. Not much got past the midfield general in his 55 minutes of action. Rodgers must be tempted to throw him in from the start against Sheffield United, live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday.



Sheffield United
Leicester City


Leicester fixtures

Sun Dec 6: Sheff Utd (a)

Thurs Dec 10: AEK Athens (a)

Sun Dec 13: Brighton (h)

Wed Dec 16: Everton (h)

Sun Dec 20: Tottenham (a)

Positives for Celtic but defence an issue again

There’s a lot of doom and gloom around Celtic at the moment, but there were rays of light at the San Siro. The visitors stormed into a 2-0 lead with two well-taken goals from Tom Rogic and Odsonne Edouard. Celtic may be struggling at the moment, but they pounced on Milan’s defensive mistakes and made them pay.

The trouble is, Milan did the same and there were many more of them.

  • AC Milan 4-2 Celtic – Match report and ratings

Ryan Christie made a needless foul to concede the free-kick that Hakan Calhanoglu expertly fired home. There was no denying the quality of the delivery – it was world-class – but Vasilis Barkas had to at least try and come across to save it. He just watched it land in the bottom corner.

There were five players on the floor ahead of Samu Castillejo as he chipped home the equaliser, and Jens Petter Hauge breezed past the Celtic defence for both of Milan’s next two goals, exposing their deficiencies and exploiting their lack of confidence.

But Celtic had another good spell between the two second-half goals and arguably should have scored another. Jeremie Frimpong – Celtic’s most creative attacking outlet – went close and Christie drew a sensational, leaping save from Gianluigi Donnarumma with a free-kick almost identical to Calhanoglu’s. The difference was the quality Milan have in their goalkeeper.

It’s back to the drawing board again for Neil Lennon but there were positives and some reaction after the Scottish League Cup defeat on Sunday, albeit not quite the victorious one fans were hoping for.

Now, all their attention must be on the Scottish Premiership, starting with St Johnstone away this weekend.
Charlotte Marsh

Celtic fixtures

Sun Dec 6: St Johnstone (h)

Thurs Dec 10: Sparta Prague (a)

Sun Dec 13: Kilmarnock (h)

Wed Dec 23: Ross County (h)

Sat Dec 26: Hamilton Academical (h)

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