By Paul Wilkes
It has been a disappointing campaign for Everton, with the club struggling both domestically and in Europe. They got off to the worst possible start against Lyon, when Mason Holgate terribly mistimed a tackle and Nabil Fekir finished the resulting penalty.
Fekir has been outstanding this season and is thriving with the added responsibility. The attacker scored a stoppage time free-kick to beat Ligue 1 champions Monaco last week and has now been involved in 12 goals for Lyon in 12 appearances.
The French side almost had a two-goal advantage at the break, when Tom Davies managed to deflect Memphis Depay’s free-kick with this use of his head, but Jordan Pickford looked on helplessly as it hit the upright. The frustrations boiled over in an unsavoury incident in the second half, when Ashley Williams was fortunate to stay on the pitch as he pushed Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes to the ground, but the Welsh defender equalised just five minutes later with a header.
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1 – Everton have picked up just 1 point after 3 Europa League group stage games – the worst start of any English club at this stage. Dire. pic.twitter.com/oyquUUbyZB
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 19, 2017
Lyon boss Bruno Genesio has been the subject of his own denigration, with the board giving him until the next international period to improve on three wins in 10 games in all competitions. The win over Monaco could be a turning point in his tenure, as former Chelsea forward Bertrand Traore flicked in a winner to give them a 2-1 victory at Goodison Park.
Everton have made the worst start to a Europa League campaign by any English club ever and now play Arsenal, Chelsea, and Leicester City before they travel to France to face Lyon again. Ronald Koeman knows that results must improve if he is to stay on Merseyside for the near future.
Giroud’s importance to Arsenal shouldn’t be underestimated
With the £46.5 million signing of Alexandre Lacazette in the summer, it was natural for Olivier Giroud to be used much less frequently. The Frenchman is arguably the club’s fourth choice striker and hasn’t started a game in the Premier League this season, with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck often preferred to lead the line.
Giroud has had his critics at the Emirates, but it’s mainly down to his style. The 31-year-old has been excellent at scoring goals when you consider that he isn’t particularly suited to Arsene Wenger’s possession-based philosophy.
Arsenal won their second consecutive match in the Europa League, when Giroud scored the only goal of the game following an excellent team effort and on the one occasion when they demonstrated their superior ability. His overhead kick looped over Red Star Belgrade goalkeeper Milan Borjan after some clever combination play from Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshire.
Red Star offered little threat in the second half, although they did provide the makeshift Arsenal defence problems in the first 45 minutes. Their runs into the channels and straight through balls did cause some concern.
Richmond Boakye’s header hit the crossbar after 25 minutes, whilst Namanja Radojnic saw his first attempt saved by Petr Cech and then his follow-up opportunity blocked by Reiss Nelson. Walcott also forced Borjan into a save, but both teams seemed content with the draw until Giroud contributed a moment of quality.
Lazio show their squad depth
Simone Inzaghi made six changes from the Lazio team that defeated Juventus at the weekend and had to make do with large spells without possession against Nice. Lucian Favre opted for a three-man defence for the first time this season, as he aimed to replicate the system of the Italians.
It appeared to have an instant impact when Mario Balotelli gave his team the lead with a fantastically executed header following a cleverly chipped ball by Wesley Sneijder, but Lazio were level again within 54 seconds as a communication error between Dante and Nice goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale allowed Felipe Caicedo to sneak in and equalise.
Lazio could introduce Ciri Immobile and former Liverpool midfielders Lucas Leiva and Luis Alberto in the second half, with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic netting a brace to give the Romans a 3-1 victory. Nice have now lost three consecutive matches in all competitions, but still have a five-point advantage in Group K after Zulte-Waregem and Vitesse drew 1-1.
Aduriz loves the Europa League
Athletic Bilbao suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat to Zorya on matchday 2, but responded with a 2-2 draw against Europa League new boys Östersund. The Swedish side had won all four of their home games in the competition without conceding a goal until they came up against the Basques.
Aritz Aduriz capitalised on an error by Östersund goalkeeper Aly Keita, who slipped when attempting to make a clearance. The Spanish international was leading goalscorer in the Europa League in 2015/16 when he netted 10 times and had never played in Europe until he was 29.
Östersund, who are managed by English coach Graham Potter, scored twice in 12 minutes in the second half. However, Aduriz wasn’t finished as he provided an assist for Inaki Williams’ late equaliser.
Real Sociedad are free scoring
Only Barcelona and Valencia have scored more times in La Liga than Real Sociedad this term. The whole of the squad has contributed to their 19 goals in eight games, with five of those coming through defenders Aritz Elustondo, Kevin Rodrigues and Diego Llorente.
La Real showed their attacking prowess once again with a 6-0 win at Macedonian side FK Vardar Skopje. However, this time Brazilian striker Willian Jose netted four of them.
This was the former Real Madrid forward’s first goals in the Europa League, although he had provided goals for Sao Paulo in the South American Copa Sudamericana. Jose managed 14 goals last season for Eusebio Sacristán’s team and now has seven goals in all competitions.
Hoffenheim continue to restore some German pride
It has been a much better week for German sides in Europe, as Hoffenheim joined Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig with victories. Julian Nagelsmann’s men had lost back-to-back games against Braga and Ludogorets Razgrad, but won 3-1 versus Istanbul Basaksehir.
Hoffenheim are fourth in the Bundesliga, but hadn’t won for three matches despite creating plenty of opportunities. They need to continue this ascent in Europe if Nagelsmann is justify the hype that has developed.