EUROPA LEAGUE: Top five talking points

1) Celtic fans well and truly got behind the Europa League

For anyone who watched the clash between Celtic and Fenerbahce in Glasgow, they will have been left in no doubt as to how seriously the club is taking their Europa League journey.

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The Champions League may have been and gone before summer had even waved goodbye thanks to Malmo’s comfortable home leg victory, however the Celtic faithful have put that behind them quickly to cheer on their heroes in UEFA’s second tier competition.

James Forrest looked like he could strip the finest full-backs in the world at times, while former Wolves frontman Leigh Griffiths toyed, yes toyed, with the Turkish defence early on.

Sadly their familiar defensive bungles allowed Fenerbahce back into the game when Efe Ambrose chose to ignore the pantomime cries of “He’s behind you!” to allow Fernandão a ridiculously easy first goal then left him free at a corner to nod home the leveller.

Thankfully, they managed to hold off the likes of Nani and Robin van Persie in the second period to leave Vítor Pereira’s side below them in Group A with Ronny Delia’s enterprising outfit on level terms with Ajax and in touching distance of Molde in the box seat.

2) Tottenham’s dodgy full-backs still leave them exposed

Mauricio Pochettino finally looks like shaping a side in his image at White Hart Lane, thanks to some judicious squad pruning and savvy additions in the summer.

The Argentine has blended in class acts like Toby Alderweireld and Son Heung-min plus England starlets Dele Alli and Eric Dier into the existing core of Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane that he identified in his first full season at the club.

They showed enough in the first half down at an embarrassingly deserted Stade Louis II in Monaco to have put the hosts to bed with quick-footed Alli and the reborn Erik Lamela slicing through the French defence.

Unfortunately Kane’s profligate finishing gave Leonardo Jardim’s team a sniff and the Spurs full-backs duly went missing again to hand the Monaco wingers a free pass en route to Lloris’ goal that culminated in Stephan El Shaarawy’s headed equaliser.

Danny Rose managed to save a point with a defensive toe poke, however he is still the model of inconsistency while Kieran Trippier is not the same player he was last season for Burnley. With Kyle Walker similarly erratic, Ben Davies is the only safe bet currently.

3) Fiorentina are playing with a fascinating flourish of late

Often dubbed the Spurs of Italy thanks to their predilection for flair and tumbleweed trophy cabinets, Fiorentina are threatening to gatecrash the late stages of the Europa League again and even the Serie A title run-in.

After going down tamely 2-1 at home to Basel in the first Group I clash, Paulo Sousa’s side have reeled off four wins in a row including Thursday night’s clinical 4-0 demolition of Portuguese upstarts Belenenses at the Estádio do Restelo in Lisbon.

Federico Bernardeschi and Khouma Babacar put them into a healthy lead before an own goal and last-minute Giuseppe Rossi effort added gloss to get them going in the group.

They reached the semi-finals last season before Sevilla sent them packing and they seem to have moved up another level as can be seen from their lofty position at the top of the domestic league back home.

Nikola Kalinic is banging in goals for fun with able support from silky players such as Josip Ilicic and on-loan Jakub Blaszczykowski, while it’s only a matter of time before Italian international Rossi fills his boots again.

It’s hard to believe Kalinic is the same player that struggled at Blackburn with just seven goals in 44 appearances and former Bolton boy Marcos Alonso also looks accomplished saying much about Sousa’s magic touch and potentially a brave new dawn in Florence.

4) Villarreal are thriving in their unusual heady heights

When Roberto Soldado made a mess of his introduction to Villarreal fans this summer by smashing the ball anywhere but into the fans, you sensed the former Tottenham striker’s woes could spill over into his new team.

After netting in the first two games of their La Liga campaign, though, it seemed it could be a clean slate not just for Spurs misfit Soldado but also the team itself which has been borne out by just one defeat in all competitions so far this season.

Any self-respecting European football fan of the last 20 years will know Villarreal as the home of Argentine maestro Juan Román Riquelme as well as established internationals like Robert Pires, Nilmar, Marcos Senna, Martin Palermo and Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla.

They have often been a purist’s favourite or hipster team, if you will, however they appear set to throw off the shackles and make a concerted effort on all fronts.

Their 1-0 victory over Viktoria Plzeň courtesy of a brilliant Léo Baptistão strike was not the prettiest or most convincing, nevertheless it gets them back in the Group E hunt and keeps the mood of the tiny Spanish town buoyant heading into a busy autumn run of games.

5) Marseille are in a spot of bother

The French side are staring down the barrel already this season thanks to a frankly bizarre start to their respective Ligue 1 and Europa League campaigns.

Former Spanish international Michel took over from Marcelo Bielsa in August after the wily Argentine saw his side throw away top spot in Ligue 1 halfway through last season to finish fourth and two points off the Champions League places.

The summer saw a ludicrous parade of players head out and come in that seems to have robbed the south-coast outfit of their heart with Dmitri Payet’s move to West Ham looking the biggest culprit, something Hammers fans could care less about after his scintillating start in east London.

Well travelled French international Lassana Diarra appears to be the only player pulling his weight thus far aside from flashes of brilliance from Romain Alessandrini, leaving Michel with more questions than answers as he attempts to placate notoriously fiery fans.

The late loss to Slovan Liberec on home soil on Thursday night will have done his cause no good at all, Vladimír Coufal’s goal leaving them level on points with the Czech side and three points behind Braga in Group F with just eight points from eight games in Ligue 1 to boot.

Join me on 23rd October for the next round of reflection.

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