Europa hits and misses: Rashford’s revival but Ronaldo flops

Rashford re-emerging as big-game player

Star man: Marcus Rashford changed the game for Manchester United
Marcus Rashford scored twice and claimed an assist as Man Utd won 3-2 over Omonia

After a hugely disappointing 2021/22 season that was hampered by poor form and a shoulder injury, Marcus Rashford appears to be enjoying a bounce-back campaign under Erik ten Hag.

In just eight matches under the Dutchman, the 24-year-old has already bettered his assists tally from last season and has matched his goals total.

The two strikes he produced away to Omonia Nicosia on Thursday were the fourth and fifth he has notched this season, while his brilliant flicked assist for Anthony Martial’s goal was his third of what is shaping up to be a highly productive campaign.

While Rashford’s numbers are impressive, it’s when and where he’s converting his chances that catches the eye.

The academy graduate’s five goals have been spread across just three matches and have been responsible for winning Manchester United six extra points in those games.

Rashford’s first of the season came in the 2-1 win over Liverpool – Ten Hag’s first victory – while the second two helped Man Utd to a 3-1 triumph over another big-six rival in Arsenal.

Then, in Cyprus, Rashford stepped off the bench at half-time with his side staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat to lead them to a hard-fought victory that kept them within touching distance of top spot in Europa League Group E.

The re-emergence of Rashford as a big-game player is a welcome boost for Man Utd and Ten Hag, and may be coming at just the right time for the forward as he hunts a recall to an England squad crying out for a spark ahead of this winter’s World Cup.
Joe Shread

Ronaldo flounders in uncomfortably low-key surroundings

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after a missed scoring opportunity during the Europa League group E soccer match between Omonia and Manchester United at GSP stadium in Nicosia, Cyprus, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Cristiano Ronaldo had eight shots against Omonia but couldn’t find the net

Cristiano Ronaldo’s entire career has been geared towards breaking records and making himself a global star, so there was something a little sad about watching the Champions League’s record appearance holder and goalscorer flounder against European minnows Omonia Nicosia in the Europa League.

Man Utd’s 3-2 win in Cyprus was only the fifth time the 37-year-old has taken to the field in the competition – a perfect illustration of how he has operated at the highest level of European football for so long.

In fairness to Ronaldo, he didn’t turn his nose up at the opportunity to add to his monumental career goals tally against Omonia. In fact, he did all he could to find the net for just the second time in what is proving to be a frustrating season but, try as he might, the ball just wouldn’t go in.

The Portugal international had efforts saved by the goalkeeper, blocked by defenders, hit the side netting and fly over the bar as he shot with his right foot, his left foot, from close range and from long distance.

Cristiano Ronaldo started for Manchester United in Cyprus
Ronaldo hasn’t started in the Premier League since August

Ronaldo even contrived to hit the post when Diogo Dalot presented him with a goal that was as good as open. It was a chance that he used to be able to score in his sleep.

So desperate was Ronaldo to score that the final five minutes in Cyprus turned into a team-wide effort to get him on the scoresheet, even though Man Utd were holding onto a precarious lead.

In the 90th minute, Ronaldo ignored the wide open Anthony Martial in favour of going for goal himself but, inevitably at this point, powered his dipping effort wide.

Then, finally, it looked like Ronaldo would break his duck when Marcus Rashford spotted him lurking at the far post, ready to tap home his low cross. That was until Rashford shanked the pass, somehow missing his team-mate completely and extinguishing Ronaldo’s hopes of marking a rare start with a much-needed goal.

Ronaldo isn’t used to taking on the likes of Omonia, isn’t used to playing in the Europa League and isn’t used to struggling for both goals and game time. These are unfamiliar times for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Joe Shread

Nketiah needs to be more ruthless

Eddie Nketiah fires wide early on as Arsenal take on Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League
Eddie Nketiah fires wide early on as Arsenal take on Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League

Eddie Nketiah picked the ball up, turned and suddenly, it looked like he had the Bodo/Glimt defence in the palm of his hands.

The Arsenal striker would carry the ball around 20 yards and put it just wide of goal from distance, but it showed how far the 23-year-old has come in the space of six months.

From being lightweight, on the very periphery of the squad and seemingly heading out the door, to bustling past defenders with the new physique he has managed to build over the summer.

It’s the most noticeable improvement in his game – it’s not the first time he’s showed it. His cameo in the Saturday Night Football win over Fulham in August, which helped Arsenal bustle past a stubborn Fulham side, was an early glimpse of his eye-catching new power.

But while Nketiah has one new edge, he needs to develop another. His poacher’s goal was well taken, but more spurned chances mean the pressure is still off Gabriel Jesus in that Arsenal striker battle.

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Mikel Arteta says Gabriel Jesus gives absolutely everything when he’s on the pitch, yet felt his side lacked composure at times during Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Bodo/Glimt.

In the first-half Nketiah tried, and failed, to square to Gabriel Martinelli when one-on-one. After half-time, he put a similar chance over after a superb slide-through pass from Martin Odegaard.

“You have to look at what you have done – great. But what can you do better?” said Arteta about Nketiah after the game.

If Nketiah can’t put those additional chances away, then it’s unlikely he can get more chances in the Premier League above Jesus. And if those minutes do not come, then he can’t develop in the way he would like to.
Sam Blitz

Gunners depth looks better than ever

Fabio Vieira celebrates Arsenal's third goal, after being set up by Gabriel Jesus
Fabio Vieira celebrates Arsenal’s third goal, after being set up by Gabriel Jesus

October is a gruelling month for Arsenal. Nine matches in 29 days, with four out of the last six being away from home.

But what will delight Mikel Arteta is that eight changes can be made and results and performances don’t waver. Arsenal have barely been required to step out of second gear against Tottenham and Bodo/Glimt, which is the perfect tonic ahead of a major contest against Liverpool this weekend.

Bar Cedric Soares, who is only just back from injury, every single available member of the first-team squad is used – which is testament to the depth Arteta has at his disposal.

Last season, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney were both deemed irreplaceable but are now struggling to show that Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko should be dropped as full-backs, meaning they can be used to keep the Europa League levels high.

Eddie Nketiah began Arsenal's charge to a win over Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League
Eddie Nketiah began Arsenal’s charge to a win over Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League

With another goal to his name, Fabio Vieira is taking some creative burden from Martin Odegaard, while the calmness of Rob Holding means too much is not asked of William Saliba so early into his Arsenal first-team career.

Injuries will eventually come up on Arsenal, but on Thursday’s showing these second-string players showed they can step up to the mark.

When Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League in May, both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher said the Thursday-Sunday routine would damage their season. But they’re top of the league and barely breaking sweat in Europe. It’s not been too bad so far.
Sam Blitz

Hammers super subs offer glimpse of exciting future

Gianluca Scamacca celebrates West Ham's victory against Anderlecht in the Europa Conference League
Gianluca Scamacca celebrates West Ham’s victory against Anderlecht in the Europa Conference League

When substitutes Gianluca Scamacca and Lucas Paqueta teamed up cleverly for West Ham’s late winner against Anderlecht, it offered a real glimpse of what the duo could offer David Moyes’s side in attack this season.

The Europa Conference League clash featuring the top two in group B was finely balanced when David Moyes decided to roll the dice and make a triple change with just 20 minutes left at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.

The Hammers manager introduced Scamacca and Paqueta in a show of real strength from the bench and soon they had combined neatly on the edge of the Anderlecht box to maintain the visitors’ 100 per cent record in the competition.

Scamacca still had work to do to find the far corner of the net after good skill by his Brazilian team-mate had created the opening, but he did it unerringly for his fifth goal for the club since joining from Sassuolo for £35.5 million in July.

And expect the Italy international and Paqueta, who arrived from Lyon for £51m the following month, to start at home against Fulham on Sunday.
Richard Morgan

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