Europa League hits and misses: Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood inspire
The big talking points from Thursday's action, including how Bukayo Saka sparked Arsenal into life away to Standard Liege
Last Updated: 13/12/19 10:12am
With a Premier League clash against Manchester City - live on Sky Sports on Sunday - on the horizon for Freddie Ljungberg, the Swede took a bit of a gamble in Liege, fielding a number of youngsters as the Gunners looked to secure top spot in Group F.
Midway through the second half, it was a gamble that looked to have backfired with Standard two goals to the good and Eintracht Frankfurt beating Vitoria Guimaraes in the game's other group.
Finishing second in the group - and potentially drawing the likes of Inter Milan and Ajax - was looking more and more likely, until Saka (and Vitoria!) intervened. Saka has made no secret of the role Ljungberg, who coached a number of Arsenal youngsters during his time with club's academy, has played in his development and the 18-year-old stepped up for his mentor.
First, he set up Alexandre Lacazette with an inch-perfect cross before exchanging passes with Gabriel Martinelli and picking out the far corner to bring his side level.
"He was amazing," Ljungberg said in his post-match press conference. "He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He's a tremendous talent. His final ball and last bit is always effective. Bukayo had a tremendous night."
Was Saka's performance enough to force his way into Ljungberg's starting line-up to face the Premier League champions on Sunday? Ljungberg knows the young players at Arsenal well and with injury concerns over Nicolas Pepe and a number of other players, he will have no doubts about starting a confident Saka following his excellent showing in Liege.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has tried his damnedest to keep a lid on the hype surrounding Mason Greenwood.
In fairness, the United manager has done a good job, maintaining expectation levels at the same time as shielding the 18-year-old from the harshness of United's tumultuous campaign.
But when Solskjaer, the man tasked with nurturing the promising youngster, labels Greenwood as one of the finest finishers he's ever laid eyes on, the cat - if it wasn't already - is well and truly out of the bag.
"I've seen a few good young players," Solskjaer said. "I played with Wayne Rooney, but in terms of natural finishing, Mason is one of the best I've seen."
Greenwood, like his team-mates, cut a peripheral figure in the first half against AZ Alkmaar, but was instrumental in his side's second-half demolition job, demonstrating his finishing ability as he became the youngest player in United's history to score a brace in Europe.
Greenwood is undoubtedly gifted, but his latest goalscoring spree provided further proof that United have a prospect on their hands, the likes of which has not been seen for some time.
To use a traditional football term, it was a game of two halves for Rangers who showed the best and worst of their play. It was nearly another repeat from the reverse fixture loss two months ago too, with Steven Gerrard's side almost ruining their own party at Ibrox.
Let's start with the positives, and there were a good few. Alfredo Morelos once again dazzled up front, scoring his sixth goal of the group stages, and will end this portion of the competition as the top scorer. He gave defender Frederick Sorensen nightmares and when he, Joe Aribo and Scott Arfield got going, they would have been a problem for even the best defences.
There was some good defensive work too, especially when Young Boys surged into form in the second half, but there were too many loose passes in midfield and chances spurned. Arfield and Aribo should have nabbed a goal each at least, but were unable to take advantage. The own goal from Borna Barisic showed a real lack of concentration too, and he owes a debt to his team-mates for seeing out the game for the all-important point.
These are issues Gerrard will need to address before the knockout stages get under way next year because they may not be able to get away with the same mistakes against better sides. But they showed superb character to bounce back from a disappointing Scottish League Cup final defeat to their arch-rivals Celtic, and Ibrox will have more famous European nights to look forward to.
Having been tipped as potential Europa League winners by rival manager Dan Petrescu, Celtic's fringe players failed to seize their opportunity as they were soundly beaten by familiar foes Cluj.
Neil Lennon's side had earned the right to be in the privileged position of having top spot assured in Group E, but the 1,000 supporters who made the trip to north-western Romania witnessed a moment of history.
At 16 years and 293 days old, Karamoko Dembele became the youngest player to ever play for Celtic in major European competition, and while the teenager only had 18 minutes to make an impression, his movement and close control suggest it will be the first of many at this level.
On behalf of everyone in the Academy, we would like to congratulate graduates Scott Robertson, on making his First Team debut and Karamoko Dembele, on becoming the youngest player to represent Celtic in a European tie. #rolemodels— Celtic FC Academy (@CelticFCAcademy) December 12, 2019
Dembele added to his one other appearance for the Hoops, having made his senior debut in a 2-1 victory against Hearts back in May, and Lennon said following his side's 2-0 loss: "We think very highly of him.
"I wanted to give him some experience. I want to keep him around the team squad because we think he's a real talent and I wanted to give him a little bit of experience at this level."
Despite his tender years, Dembele doesn't look out of place.
Having finished last season so strongly, big things had been expected of Wolves forward Diogo Jota coming into this campaign. Belatedly, the Portuguese has found his best form - following up his two goals against Brighton with a hat-trick against Besiktas on Thursday.
The game had been goalless when Jota was introduced just before the hour mark but the substitute broke the deadlock with his first touch before producing two more poacher's finishes to complete his hat-trick in just 11 minutes. What an impact.
Jota's goal glut means he has scored more goals in his last two appearances than he had managed in his previous 24 for club and country this season. It is a huge boost to Nuno Espirito Santo, who could have been forgiven for wondering whether the player could thrive in his 3-4-3 formation.
After all, it was only after Jota was moved more centrally to partner Raul Jimenez in a 3-5-2 formation that he enjoyed his purple patch last term. While the switch back to 3-4-3 has suited some, including Ruben Neves, Jota was seen as a potential victim of the change.
But he is a confidence player above all else and with Wolves going into a daunting run of games over the festive period, having Jota in this kind of form could be huge.
Europa League progress had already been assured before this game against Besiktas. But Jota's dramatic intervention at Molineux means the night could yet prove to be a significant moment in Wolves' season nevertheless.