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10 players to watch in the Europa League this season

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10 players to watch in the Europa League: From the midfielder compared to Zinedine Zidane and wanted by Manchester United to the defender desperate to prove Real Madrid wrong, these stars could light up the tournament this season

  • The Europa League group stage gets underway on Thursday night
  • Manchester United, Arsenal and Wolves are the Premier League clubs involved
  • But there are players across the Continent ready to make names for themselves
  • Stars from Lazio, Roma, Porto and more big clubs are ones to keep a firm eye on 

The new UEFA Europa League campaign gets underway on Thursday with the opening group-stage matches taking place the length and breadth of the continent.

There’s a strong British contingent in this season’s competition with Premier League qualifiers Manchester United, Arsenal and Wolves joined by Rangers and Celtic from north of the border.

But there’s a very strong line up elsewhere in the draw, however, with Sevilla, Roma, Lazio and Porto among the European clubs fancying their chances of going all the way.

We take a look at some of the stars from clubs beyond Britain who will be hoping to illuminate this season’s Europa League.

Porto striker Ze Luis is ready to take his strong domestic form onto the big stage in Europe

Porto striker Ze Luis is ready to take his strong domestic form onto the big stage in Europe

Ze Luis (Porto)

Porto have become accustomed to Champions League football in recent seasons but failed to make it through the qualifiers this year, losing to Russians Krasnodar.

But they do have some Europa League pedigree and lifted the trophy back in 2011.

They’re never usually short of goals and have added to their firepower this summer by paying £7.65million to bring Cape Verde international Ze Luis from Spartak Moscow.

He had a fairly good goalscoring record in Russia but has certainly taken to life in Portugal with six goals in his first seven matches this season.

That included the opening goal against rivals Benfica last month, a surefire way to endear yourself to the Porto fans.

Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Eintracht surprised more than a few by reaching the Europa League semi-finals last season, where they were unfortunate to be eliminated on penalties by eventual winners Chelsea.

Serbian left-sided midfielder Kostic was an influential part of this highly effective side, scoring four of his 10 goals last season in Europe. He also provided 13 assists in a blockbuster campaign.

And while Frankfurt may have lost their two star strikers, Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller, over the course of the summer, they might still be considered dark horses this season.

Kostic picked up where he left off with three goals in Europa League qualifying and will relish the prospect of playing Arsenal in the group stage.

Filip Kostic is ready to star once again for last season's semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt

Filip Kostic is ready to star once again for last season's semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt

Filip Kostic is ready to star once again for last season’s semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is Lazio's main man

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is Lazio's main man

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is Lazio’s main man

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio) 

From one Serbian to another and one of the players who will be watched most closely in this season’s Europa League as Lazio return to the competition for a third straight year. Milinkovic-Savic was so highly regarded a couple of years ago he was being linked with a transfer to Manchester United, and while such interest may have cooled, the central midfield will undoubtedly play a key role in the Italian club’s European campaign. Milinkovic-Savic has drawn lofty comparisons to everyone from Zinedine Zidane to Yaya Toure to Paul Pogba and if he can produce the kind of pass-picking, chance-finishing form he is capable of, then Lazio will advance to the business end of the tournament. First, however, they must overcome Celtic, Rennes and Cluj in their group. 

Sergio Reguilon (Sevilla) 

Sevilla’s presence in the Europa League inspires something close to dread. After all, the Spanish side did win the competition in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Although many of the bookmakers have ranked Manchester United and Arsenal as the favourites to lift the trophy this season, Sevilla simply cannot be discounted given the talent in their ranks. One such player is their 22-year-old left-back Reguilon, who is spending the season with them on loan from Real Madrid. He’s hardly a novice, having played 22 times for Real last season, and the loan away came as something as a surprise. But it also seems to have provided extra motivation – Reguilon scored and provided an assist on his Sevilla debut at Espanyol. He seems determined to prove that Zinedine Zidane was wrong to farm him out. 

Defender Sergio Reguilon is on loan at Sevilla from Real Madrid and has a point to prove

Defender Sergio Reguilon is on loan at Sevilla from Real Madrid and has a point to prove

Defender Sergio Reguilon is on loan at Sevilla from Real Madrid and has a point to prove

Alessandro Florenzi (Roma)

It’s a great delight to see Roma add a splash of colour and passion to this season’s Europa League. This is certainly a place where the captain must embody all the virtues of the club, and so much will be expected of Alessandro Florenzi, who took the armband from Daniele De Rossi after he left for Boca Juniors. Florenzi sounds like ideal captaincy material – a box-to-box midfielder who is technically gifted and also versatile depending on what the team needs. He also has over 260 appearances for the club. Although Roma have taken a shine to the Champions League, Florenzi has gone on record as saying Roma will honour the Europa League and they must first negotiate their way past Borussia Monchengladbach, Istanbul Basaksehir and Wolfsberger in the group.

Alessandro Florenzi has big boots to fill at Roma after Daniele De Rossi's departure

Alessandro Florenzi has big boots to fill at Roma after Daniele De Rossi's departure

Alessandro Florenzi has big boots to fill at Roma after Daniele De Rossi’s departure

Josip Brekalo is firing for Wolfsburg

Josip Brekalo is firing for Wolfsburg

Josip Brekalo is firing for Wolfsburg

Josip Brekalo (Wolfsburg) 

Brekalo earned himself instant cult status at Wolfsburg when, as a teenager, the Croatian scored crucial goals to win their Bundesliga relegation play-off against Holstein Kiel in 2018. Things have come on a long way for the club since then and they’re now back in European competition with the left-sided winger making great strides in the early part of the season. Brekalo already has three goals and two assists in an assured team that could well go to the quarter-finals or beyond. They have drawn Gent, Saint-Etienne and Oleksandriya in their group. 

Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Completing a strong Bundesliga trio in this season’s Europa League are Borussia Monchengladbach, who boast one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in Swiss international Yann Sommer. The 30-year-old is an old hand in European competitions with 75 appearances for old club Basel, and Monchengladbach during the course of his career. He’s already kept three clean sheets in five matches this season and will need to be at his shot-stopping best for Gladbach to get out of a group containing Roma, Istanbul Basaksehir and Wolfsberger. 

Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer has a wealth of experience in Europe

Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer has a wealth of experience in Europe

Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer has a wealth of experience in Europe

Shon Weissman (Wolfsberger)

Not too many strikers will be entering the Europa League group phase in as prolific form as Israel international Weissman. He has 10 goals in his first eight outings for the Austrian club Wolfsberger, who are poised to compete in European football for only the second time in 88 years of history. What’s more, 28-year-old Weissman was a free summer signing for Wolfsberger from Maccabi Haifa. 

Shon Weissman looks to be one of the bargains of the year after a free move to Wolfsberger

Shon Weissman looks to be one of the bargains of the year after a free move to Wolfsberger

Shon Weissman looks to be one of the bargains of the year after a free move to Wolfsberger

Rochinha (Vitoria Guimaraes)

Rochinha – full name Diogo Filipe Costa Rocha – may ring a bell for Bolton Wanderers fans as the Portuguese spent a few months on loan there from Benfica in 2015. The right-sided winger has since established himself in the Portuguese top-flight, first for Boavista and now Vitoria de Guimaraes, who have drawn Arsenal in their Europa League group. Rochinha has already excelled in this season’s competition with two goals and four assists in three rounds of qualifying to ensure Vitoria take their place among the elite. 

Rochinha once had a low-key spell on loan at Bolton but he is now starring for Vitoria

Rochinha once had a low-key spell on loan at Bolton but he is now starring for Vitoria

Rochinha once had a low-key spell on loan at Bolton but he is now starring for Vitoria

Cucu (Getafe) 

Getafe are back in the Europa League for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign following an outstanding campaign that saw them finish fifth in La Liga, just two points off the Champions League spots. They are clearly determined to ensure this isn’t a flash in the pan and have loaned in Marc Cucurella Saseta – Cucu for short – from Barcelona. The 21-year-old left-back, who can also play in midfield, isn’t afraid to maraud forward and has assists in his last three league outings, earning all three of Getafe’s points so far. They’ve been drawn with Basle, Krasnodar and Trabzonspor in Group C so should fancy their chances.

Cucu, in action against Kieran Trippier of Atletico Madrid, is a versatile star of Getafe

Cucu, in action against Kieran Trippier of Atletico Madrid, is a versatile star of Getafe

Cucu, in action against Kieran Trippier of Atletico Madrid, is a versatile star of Getafe

 



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England U21 boss Aidy Boothroyd monitoring Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka

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‘He is definitely on the radar’: England U21 boss Aidy Boothroyd monitoring Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka

  • Bukayo Saka has made three Premier League starts already this campaign
  • The Under 19 international is in England’s thinking ahead of next month’s games
  • Arsenal team-mate Joe Willock believes it is only a matter of time before he plays

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka is being monitored by England’s Under 21s after bursting onto the scene this season.

Saka has made three Premier League starts already and scored during the 3-0 Europa League win at Frankfurt.

The Under 19 international is in England’s thinking ahead of games against Holland and Albania next month.

The Under 19 international is in England’s thinking ahead of games against Holland and Albania

The Under 19 international is in England’s thinking ahead of games against Holland and Albania

‘He is definitely on the radar,’ manager Aidy Boothroyd said. ‘I saw him play against (Nottingham) Forest (last month). I know what he’s all about. He’ll do well enough before long.’

Arsenal team-mate Joe Willock believes it is only a matter of time before Saka makes the step up.

‘There are so many players coming through the ranks who are thriving with ability,’ Willock said. ‘Saka isn’t in the squad but he’s an amazing player and I’m sure he will be one day.’

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka is being monitored by England’s Under 21s boss Aidy Boothroyd

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka is being monitored by England’s Under 21s boss Aidy Boothroyd

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka is being monitored by England’s Under 21s boss Aidy Boothroyd



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Arsenal legend Ian Wright pinpoints the Unai Emery decision which ‘baffles’ him

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Arsenal legend Ian Wright is “baffled” by the lack of football played by Mesut Ozil so far this season.

Ozil has made just two appearances this term, starting the 2-2 Premier League draw with Watford and 5-0 Carabao Cup win over Nottingham Forest.

However, the German has not featured in head coach Unai Emery’s last three match day squads.

Emery has confirmed Ozil is not injured and his absence is purely down to selection.

Wright, though, wants to see the 31-year-old back in a Gunners shirt sooner or later.

The former striker claims even if Emery wants to sell Ozil in January, prospective clubs will want to have seen him in action recently.

“I want to see more offensive players on the pitch in positions where we’re going to be able to hurt teams,” Wright told Premier League Productions.

“I don’t know what’s happened with Ozil, I’m not sure that we as a club can afford to have a player of that calibre, paying what they’re paying him, which is always going to be mentioned, not even in the squad, not even there at all.

“Because if that’s the case then what’s he doing to that asset?

“Is he going to go in January? Is that what he’s trying to say to us?

“Because for me he should be playing, he should be involved and even if he doesn’t like him, for whatever reason, you’ve got to play him if you want to get rid of him simply because you want people to see that he’s still a quality player. So that one baffles me.”

Arsenal are back in Premier League action next Monday when they visit promoted side Sheffield United.

The Gunners are currently third in the table, eight games into the season, having won half their matches.

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Arsenal ace Eddie Nketiah backed to end Leeds United loan deal early

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Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah has been backed by Darren Bent to look for a move elsewhere in January after struggling to nail down a spot during his loan spell at Leeds United.

Nketiah joined Championship side Leeds on a season-long loan from Arsenal during the summer transfer window.

He has scored four goals in his nine appearances under Marcelo Bielsa but is yet to start a league game.

And Bent does not want the 20-year-old to fall by the wayside like Saido Berahino did.

“[Nketiah] needs to be playing games,” Bent said on talkSPORT.

“We’ve seen for England Under-21s, we’ve seen over the years to be fair, a lot of strikers, you look at Saido Berahino, you look at his England Under-21 record, it’s as good as anyone’s, he couldn’t nail it down in the league.

“I think for Eddie Nketiah, he’s not playing at Leeds because [Patrick] Bamford’s in the way of him at the minute, and to be fair to Bamford he works extremely hard, and I think that’s the inly thing that’s keeping him in the team at the minute.

“Bielsa likes a hard-working side, he certainly puts defenders under pressure, shuts people down.

“But for someone like Nketiah and Arsenal Football Club, Arsenal are probably looking at this situation and saying ‘listen, we really believe in this kid but he needs to be playing games’.

“At the minute he’s got an impossible task trying to move [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang and [Alexandre] Lacazette but he’s never going to get the opportunity to do that if he’s not playing games.

“So I think he may in January have a look at going somewhere else.”

Nketiah scored a hat-trick for the England Under-21s in the 5-1 win over Austria on Wednesday and he impressed former Spurs striker Bent.

“The first one was instinctive, the cross comes in, someone knocks it down, he was just in the right place at the right time, swivels, puts it in,” Bent added.

“The second one a header, again gets himself in the six-yard box between the centre-halves, no one really picks him up, comes in, great header into the far corner.

“And the last one was arguably my favourite, which is a tap in.”

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