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Europa League and Europa Conference League hits and misses: Darwin Nunez's chaotic night for Liverpool

Plus: Brighton show progress with win over Ajax, Villa show their ruthless streak, West Ham receive a wake-up call, while there's a learning curve for Philippe Clement at Rangers and Aberdeen are left to rue a controversial VAR call

Nunez hits and misses again for Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp claims he's not worried by Darwin Nunez missing an open goal in Liverpool's 5-1 win over Toulouse in the Europa League as he praised the striker's performance.

Never has a player encapsulated the title of this feature quite as well as the 'agent of chaos'. Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez truly hits and misses.

The 24-year-old broke a four-game run without a goal for his club in a complete performance on Thursday as Liverpool thrashed Toulouse. But there was another moment that will be the talk of the town.

"He played incredibly," interjected Jurgen Klopp when asked about Nunez after the game. The Liverpool manager knew what was coming.

"I couldn't care less that he hits the post in that moment," Klopp added, addressing the elephant in the room.

The miss, and all that preceded it, perfectly sum up Nunez's Liverpool career to date. He not only rounded the goalkeeper but beat the defender too. The hard work was done.

All that lay before him was the goal. A simple finish would've sufficed. Nunez doesn't do simple though.

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A cameo off the bench at St James' Park scoring two goals to win the game with his team a player down is more his style.

True to form, the striker's miss ended up rebounding off the post to set up Ryan Gravenberch for Liverpool's fourth.

Nunez cannot be tamed, he is predictably unpredictable. This is what he does. Not even he knows what's coming next.
Zinny Boswell

Brighton's Ajax win shows how far club have come

Brighton's Ansu Fati celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Europa League Group B soccer match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Ajax at the Amex stadium in Brighton, England, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Image: Ansu Fati scored in Brighton's historic first European win as the Seagulls defeated Ajax 2-0

On this date two decades ago Brighton were recovering from a 1-0 home defeat to Stockport in League One, but now the Seagulls are basking in the glory of defeating four-time European Cup champions Ajax at home.

How times have changed for the south coast club.

Their historic victory over the Dutch giants for a first ever win in Europe will be a memorable one, made even sweeter considering the opposition.

This beleaguered and managerless Ajax side, though, are not befitting of the club's illustrious history with the 36-time Dutch champions sitting an embarrassing second-bottom in the Eredivisie and on a nine-game winless run in all competition.

Nonetheless, Brighton took full advantage of Ajax's disarray to put in a composed and controlled performance that finally announced their arrival on the European stage.

Thursday's victory at the Amex Stadium completed a learning curve at this level for Roberto De Zerbi's side.

Having lost their debut European game at home to AEK Athens, the Seagulls followed that up with a creditable 2-2 draw at French side Marseille and have now achieved that vital first win.

The next step for Brighton will be reaching the Europa League knockout stages and continue this underdog story.
Declan Olley

Villa ruthless right now

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Speaking after Aston Villa's 4-1 win over AZ Alkmaar in the Europa Conference League, Lee Hendrie suggests the club should be targeting winning the competition.

Aston Villa were truly clinical in their 4-1 win over AZ Alkmaar. Five shots, four goals. The only shot they didn't score from? It was rebounded in the net seconds later.

What was also impressive is the type of goals Villa scored on Thursday night. They took a 2-0 lead from just 0.15 xG from the two shots, showing the clinical mood they are in right now.

Then there's the personnel that are scoring for Villa. Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans were the two players rotated into this Villa attack for the trip to AZ and took their chances, showing the depth Villa have. Ollie Watkins and John McGinn scoring once again in the form of their lives just adds to the excitement.

Next up for Unai Emery's side is Luton Town at Villa Park. The Hatters have highest Expected Goals Against tally away from home in the Premier League this season. They cannot afford to give Villa the chances they have been giving other teams. Or they will be comfortably dispatched as well.
Sam Blitz

West Ham beaten at last in wake-up call for Moyes

Olympiacos' Rodinei, left, and West Ham's Lucas Paqueta fight for the ball during the Group A Europa League soccer match between Olympiacos and West Ham at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Image: Lucas Paqueta was only a second-half sub for a much-changed West Ham

All good things must come to an end. West Ham's 17-match unbeaten European run couldn't last forever.

But the manner with which the Hammers' record-breaking spell was brought to an abrupt halt by Olympiakos will irk David Moyes.

The manager made seven changes from the hammering at Aston Villa, continuing to give his fringe players a chance to impress, as he did throughout their triumphant Europa Conference League run last season.

But away days in the Europa League are a sterner test, and Moyes' squad players showed they might not be up to it.

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West Ham's 17-game unbeaten run in Europe was ended after a 2-1 defeat to Olympiakos and David Moyes claimed the team clicked too late to have an impact on the result.

Given the balancing act between the Premier League and continental pursuits, that must be a concern for the Hammers boss.

A stronger team played their first away game in Freiburg and emerged victorious, with Paqueta and Aguerd both on target - but neither was in the starting line-up this time around.

On paper this was still a decent side. The likes of Danny Ings, Mohammed Kudus and Said Benrahma are all experienced top-level players, but they each played a role in a Greek tragedy on Thursday night.

Ings extended his personal scoreless run to 20 games with another blank, Kudus barely looked a man with a point to prove to Moyes over his Premier League game time. Benrahma showed flashes of quality, but all three were hooked well before full-time.

Moyes has slowly deepened his squad since returning to the London Stadium four years ago, but perhaps this is a wake-up call of how liberal he can be with his team selections back in the second-tier of European competition.

Playing a full-strength side in both the Premier League and on the continent brings its own problems, with fears of burn-out or injury to players he can't afford to lose. But without it, the Hammers' recent run of European delights could be under threat.
Ron Walker

A learning curve for Clement

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 26: Rangers Manager Philippe Clement during a UEFA Europa League Group Stage match between Sparta Prague and Rangers at the Letna Stadium, on October 26, 2023, in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Image: The draw with Sparta Prague was Philippe Clement's first European match as Rangers boss

Rangers looked lively in the final 20 minutes, but they had to rely on keeper Jack Butland to keep the home side at bay in the first half of a gruelling Group C match.

There was a marked improvement in the final 20 minutes and the new manager will have learned more about his players in Prague than he did against Hibs at the weekend and he may have to reassess the way forward.

With Borna Barisic and Dujon Sterling injured and former boss Michael Beale not including Ridvan Yilmaz in the European squad, Clement had no natural left-back available.

He changed to a back three and they struggled with the change of system.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 26: Rangers' Jack Butland makes a double save during a UEFA Europa League Group Stage match between Sparta Prague and Rangers at the Letna Stadium, on October 26, 2023, in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Image: Rangers' Jack Butland makes a double save against Sparta Prague

The Ibrox side lacked zip in the opening stages and Sparta will be wondering how they did not have the game wrapped up by the break.

But as Rangers held on the frustration began to grow for the hosts who looked to tire late on and Rangers, somehow, ended the match the better of the two sides.

It was a goalless draw and a point that could prove crucial to their hopes of progression.

They sit third in Group C on four points with two home matches coming up next. Just how important could that Ibrox atmosphere be?

VAR mystery adds to Aberdeen's comeback defeat disappointment

Aberdeen's Nicky Devlin (left) reacts following defeat during the UEFA Europa Conference League Group G match at Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen. Picture date: Thursday October 26, 2023.
Image: Aberdeen's Nicky Devlin (left) reacts following defeat during the UEFA Europa Conference League Group G match at Pittodrie Stadium, Aberdeen. Picture date: Thursday October 26, 2023.

Barry Robson was left fuming after his Aberdeen side blew a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to PAOK, a result which leaves them on the brink of Europa Conference League elimination. But it wasn't at the performance of his players.

Instead his ire was aimed at VAR. There was no intervention when Jack MacKenzie was kicked in the penalty area with the score at 2-1. It seemed certain to be given.

"We all know the answer," Robson said when asked if he felt his side had been denied a penalty. "We all make mistakes. I make mistakes, and we lost the game with players making mistakes.

"When VAR comes in, they're there to look at things six times, and they still get it wrong? That's my problem."

Responding to suggestions there was no check for the incident, Robson fumed: "If that's the case, what are they doing here? You're as well taking it away. I'm told they're supposed to check every incident."

It was a moment which added salt to the wounds for the Dons. Robson spoke of his pride at his players' performances throughout the contest but ultimately they were left with nothing to show for it. A painful night at Pittodrie.

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