Leicester are the architects of their own downfall as they are beaten by Legia Warsaw while Rangers and Celtic also succumb to defeats in the Europa League; Harry Kane's hat-trick in the Europa Conference League lifts the mood around Tottenham
Friday 1 October 2021 09:19, UK
It was another below-par performance from Leicester on Thursday, or at least by the standards we have come to expect from Brendan Rodgers' side.
The manager made six changes for the trip to Poland and left many of his big-name stars on the bench. But by the end of the game, the XI almost matched the one that played against Burnley on Saturday, but none were able to answer Mahir Emreli's first-half strike.
Leicester were overrun by Legia in the first half an hour as the hosts deservedly took the lead and ultimately scored the winner. There were too many defensive errors with Daniel Amartey simply not strong enough to deal with Emreli just inside the area.
There was little forward movement or quick passing but signs of improvement started to show. But it still took a good hour for Leicester to start seeing real chances fall their way. James Maddison and Harvey Barnes bought an injection of pace and quality into the side when they were introduced, but it was all a bit too late.
Former Leicester striker Steve Claridge told Sky Sports News: "Leicester will be really disappointed. They were really poor. They were architects of their own downfall.
"The side sent out didn't really understand what the job was and I don't think they believed they could win this game. Brendan Rodgers has got the system wrong and he's got the personnel wrong tonight."
Leicester are a team with big ambitions - they won the FA Cup and Community Shield in recent months, as well as aspirations of competing for the top four and by proxy, in the Champions League.
But as it stands, they are currently bottom of their Europa League group with one point and in real danger of crashing out of the competition all together. There's something not quite right with the Foxes at the moment, and Rodgers has a task on his hands to get his side back on track.
Rangers must have travelled to the Czech capital expecting not to have to discuss any matters regarding racism after their match with Slavia Prague, but they were sadly mistaken.
The Group A clash at the Generali Arena was originally due to be played at a different venue following a separate racist charge against Sparta after Monaco's Aurelius Tchouameni was subjected to abuse last season.
UEFA instead agreed to a proposal for the game to go ahead in front of mainly school children aged 14 and under, though, with some accompanying adults, but booing was clearly heard any time Kamara touched the ball.
To compound matters, with the visitors trailing to David Hancko's first-half header, Kamara was then sent off after picking up a second booking 16 minutes from time for a questionable elbow on Michal Sacek.
All of which made for a miserable visit to Prague for the Scottish Premiership champions, who are now without a win in four straight Europa League games after winning six and drawing two of the eight before that.
And if that winless run continues into their next game, at home to Brondby, then Rangers' European hopes will surely be over for the season.
This was not the European night under the lights the Celtic fans had dreamed of nor have witnessed in years gone by. After a chastening home defeat, there is a danger of mediocrity becoming a byword for this great club. It's now five defeats in eight games. Should there be such suffering before things get better?
This was by far the biggest test of Ange Postecoglou's new-look side, but they actually started strongly against Bayer Leverkusen with the returning Kyogo Furuhashi denied twice with the scores level in the first half.
Against top-class opposition, it always felt those missed opportunities would prove costly but Celtic were the authors of their own downfall. David Turnbull slipped at the crucial moment in the lead-up to Leverkusen's first while Anthony Ralston won't want to look back at his role in the decisive second, 10 minutes before half-time.
Celtic are a team in transition, and they again showed glimpses of real promise as Lukas Hradecky was made to work hard for his clean sheet. Chances were created and squandered with Jota and Furuhashi both profligate from close range.
Possession hasn't been a problem this season, and Celtic had 55 per cent of it again here. And yet, a softness at the back and the sort of ruthless finishing Leverkusen showed highlights the key areas Postecoglou must address.
His predecessor Neil Lennon, in his role as a pundit on BT Sport, described Celtic's style at present as 'Kamikaze'. You attack, we attack. Leverkusen could well have scored five or six themselves.
Postecoglou has a clear idea of the style of football he wants to implement but what is not yet clear is whether he has the players who are anywhere near good enough to make this marriage work. Six defeats in his opening 17 games are far too many for any Celtic manager. He has to make it work. He has to find his leaders, otherwise the criticism will intensify.
With the wounds from Sunday's north London derby defeat still very much unhealed, Tottenham simply couldn't afford another setback at the hands of Slovenian champions NS Mura.
Such was Spurs' plight in recent weeks that a victory, of any kind, in Thursday's second Europa Conference League outing would have sufficed in providing respite for Nuno Espirito Santo and his players, but they achieved more than that.
Spurs emerged with a point to prove and prove it they did, racing into a two-goal inside two eight minutes thanks to Dele Alli's penalty and a special strike from Giovani Lo Celso.
Their failure to put Mura to the sword in the middle of the game culminated in the visitors halving the deficit through Ziga Kous' stunning volley and pointed to the multitude of issues Nuno has still to address.
But his decisive decision to bring on Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura on the hour strengthened Spurs' grip on a game that was already theirs for the taking.
After three successive league defeats, the sight of Kane firing in a clinical hat-trick and Son hurtling away down the left flank lit up the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and set the template for Spurs' recovery.
It would be naïve to say Spurs have turned a corner, that will be determined by the challenges to come, but what this performance did do was lift the spirits. With Kane, Son and co on song, the grey clouds may be about to lift.
This week, a statue of West Ham's historic 1965 European Cup Winners' Cup champions was unveiled in the West Ham grounds. There's a long way to go, but there's a growing case that perhaps another historic team may be emerging at the London Stadium.
David Moyes' team have already secured their first football in a major European competition in 15 years through last season's sixth-placed finish, and now they are setting about making the most of it. They were not at their sparkling best to beat Rapid Vienna on Thursday evening; that in itself tells its own story.
"I wouldn't have put the performance as high as some of the others we've had this season, but we're still learning how to evolve at this level of football," said manager David Moyes after full-time.
You can see the level of expectation growing around the club, fed by the manager but crucially delivered by his players.
Eight changes followed Saturday's last-minute win at Leeds, and even without a show-stopping performance, the Hammers still ran out worthy and comfortable winners, another encouraging sign that the squad as much as the first team is good enough to compete on more than one front this season.
Six points from their opening two Europa League games means some reasonable form will see them safely through to the last 32. Tougher tests will await from then on, but if this is Moyes' side 'learning how to evolve', by the time the knock-out stages roll around in early 2022 you wouldn't be surprised if they've completed their lessons and are ready to mount a charge to continue deeper into the tournament.