AC Milan held off a stirring comeback by Rennes to book their place in the Europa League last 16.

The Italian side looked to have the job done after last week’s 3-0 first-leg win at the San Siro, but the Ligue 1 outfit gave them a scare on home soil, with Benjamin Bourigeaud’s hat-trick sealing a 3-2 victory in the second leg.

Milan goals from Luka Jovic and Rafael Leao proved pivotal as they secured a 5-3 aggregate win to go into the hat for Friday’s draw.

Rennes knew they would have to make early inroads into their deficit if they were to have any chance of repairing the damage from a harrowing night in Milan last week.

And they enjoyed the dream start as they went ahead in the 10th minute.

Bourigeaud received the ball in the centre of the pitch, took a touch and then drilled a scorching low effort into the bottom corner.

Milan were able to weather the early storm and got a crucial leveller in the 21st minute to restore their three-goal advantage.

Tijjani Reijnders burst forward and teed up Theo Hernandez to send in an inviting cross which an unmarked Jovic powered home with his head.

The hosts came again and thought they had made it 2-1 soon after but Arnaud Kalimuendo’s effort hit Mike Maignan without the Milan goalkeeper knowing too much about it.

The French side did go back in front in the 54th minute when Bourigeaud got his second of the match, converting from the penalty spot after Martin Terrier had been fouled by Simon Kjaer.

But they were again pegged back four minutes later as Milan made it 2-2 thanks to a fine Leao strike, the Portugal international guiding into the corner after a fine solo run.

Bourigeaud claimed the matchball as Rennes took the lead for the third time in the match as he again emphatically scored from the penalty spot after VAR had spotted a foul by Jovic.

That left them with 22 minutes of normal time to try and muster two goals and, although they attacked with intent and bluster they could not forge any real chances.

AC Milan will be without Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori for the Europa League visit to Rennes.

The Rossoneri put one foot in the last 16 with a 3-0 win over the French side in last week’s first leg.

Both players are on the way back from long-term injuries but are not ready for Thursday’s match, though might make the weekend clash with Atalanta.

Boss Stefano Pioli said on Milan TV: “It’s clear that Kalulu and Tomori haven’t trained with us for a long time, so getting them back will be very important.

“They won’t be available for tomorrow night, if anything we’ll see for Sunday. It’s clear that we were happy to have some important players back in the group.”

Piolo stressed that the tie is not over, despite Milan’s dominance in the first leg.

“We approach it with great concentration, great desire to pass this round,” he said.

“It is clear that we took a good lead in the first game but it is equally true that we cannot consider it over.

“We are playing against a team that, despite changing five or six players, won in the league match.

“We know each other well, both us and them. That can be an advantage but we can also expect different things because they will try to come back.

“We are just focused on what we have to do to get through the round.

“Their verticality, their speed for sure and also their positions, in the first leg they tried to put us in trouble with different positions than we thought.

“We can also expect something different tomorrow night. It’s a fast team, it’s a quality team that absolutely will not raise the white flag easily.

“We will have to be good at reading the game with great attention, with great conviction, managing well and trying to hit the opponents.”

Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored twice as AC Milan took control of their Europa League play-off against Rennes with a 3-0 victory in the first leg at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli’s men finished third in their Champions League group, but continue to build momentum on the back of just one defeat in 13 games now through all competitions.

Former Chelsea midfielder Loftus-Cheek put Milan in front in the 32nd minute with a glancing header and nodded home another at the start of the second half before Rafael Leao swiftly fired in a third, leaving the Italian giants within touching distance of a place in the last 16.

The Rossoneri almost took an early lead when Leao’s close-range effort struck the crossbar before Theo Hernandez blazed over from the edge of the penalty area following a corner.

Loftus-Cheek then burst down the right and cut the ball back to Yunus Musah, who sent his shot wide.

After soaking up plenty of early pressure, Rennes went close in the 21st minute when captain Benjamin Bourigeaud’s long-range effort flew just off target.

Milan broke the deadlock just after the half-hour when England international midfielder Loftus-Cheek guided a cushioned header into the bottom corner from Alessandro Florenzi’s floated cross for his fourth goal in five appearances.

The hosts – currently third in Serie A, a point behind Juventus – continued to press as Olivier Giroud’s low drive from the edge of the area was clawed away by Rennes goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Rennes, who had been unbeaten in nine games, threatened on the counter when teenage winger Desire Doue drove forwards and drilled in a 20-yard effort, which was straight at Milan keeper Mike Maignan.

The French side fell further behind just two minutes into the second half when Loftus-Cheek nodded in from close range after Mandanda had palmed out a flicked header at the near post from Milan defender Simon Kjaer.

Before Rennes could look to regroup, Leao had fired in Milan’s third – his 50th goal for the club – after a neat exchange with Christian Pulisic down the right in the 53rd minute.

Rennes made a couple of changes to try to sharpen up the team and had a good spell of pressure heading into the final 20 minutes, with a low 22-yard drive from substitute Amine Gouiri testing Maignan.

Milan had a late chance to score a fourth when Pulisic broke down the left wing. The American’s shot was parried by Mandanda and then substitute Noah Okafor saw his follow-up hacked off the line by Rennes midfielder Azor Matusiwa.

Maignan saved again from Gouiri before Ludovic Blas fired over as Rennes were left with it all to do in next week’s second leg at Roazhon Park.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli hopes his side can exorcise their Champions League disappointment in Thursday’s Europa League play-off against Rennes.

Milan face Ligue 1 side Rennes in the first leg at the San Siro Stadium after finishing third in their Champions League group.

The Rossoneri lost out on goal difference to second-placed Paris St Germain despite a 3-2 win at Newcastle in their final match.

Pioli told a press conference: “We go again from the disappointment in Newcastle and we’re focusing all of our energy on the Europa League.

“We know that you need to be at your very best in Europe and that’s what we want to do (on Thursday night).

“There are some good teams in this competition. We have to be ambitious, but we can’t look too far into the future. The tie will be decided in a week and this game is a huge one.”

Milan are currently third in the Serie A title race, one point behind Juventus and eight adrift of leaders Inter Milan.

Pioli’s side have dropped only two points in their last five league games and have lost only one of their previous 12 games in all competitions

“We need to look at both tournaments,” added Pioli, who hinted at making changes amid a heavy fixture schedule and after Sunday’s 1-0 home win against Napoli.

“I know where we want to finish in the league in terms of points and I know how far we want to go in Europe.

“I hope to play a lot from here until the end. All of the players will be involved because, for example, with five games in 15 days, it would be tough for a lot of them to play the full 90 in all of those.

“Making choices and excluding players is always difficult, but it’s also true that I know that I have players coming off the bench who can change a game.”

Netherlands midfielder Tijjani Reijnders is hoping to return to the starting line-up after missing out at the weekend through suspension.

Germany defender Malick Thiaw is back in contention after a long-term hamstring injury, while Nigeria forward Samuel Chukwueze (muscle strain) has targeted Sunday’s Serie A game at Monza for his return.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement backed his side to have an “amazing season” if they show the same togetherness that helped them to a 3-2 win over Real Betis in Seville.

Kemar Roofe’s 78th-minute winner sent an under-strength Rangers into the last 16 of the Europa League.

The Light Blues twice took the lead in the first half through Abdallah Sima and Cyriel Dessers but they were heading for the Conference League knockout stages before Roofe’s late goal inflicted a first home defeat of the season on Real Betis.

Clement told Rangers TV: “It’s an amazing evening. I am really proud of the boys, they way they stuck together, the way they were brave. The things I asked – to be brave, to go with our football, create chances, score good goals, and a real top team mentality.

“That’s what we need to build on over the next couple of months.  If they stick together like this every three days, you always have an amazing season.”

It was Rangers’ first away victory against Spanish opposition.

Clement said: “This is a big reference and statement also, for them and the outside, that if everyone is into the story and working hard, we are a really hard team to beat, even for top-class teams like Betis, who are in really good form and played a really good game against Real Madrid last week and could have won.

“It was the first loss in their home stadium this season. And it was also a game we had to win, a lot of pressure and the players dealt really well with it.”

The Belgian remains unbeaten in 13 games as Rangers manager and can lift his first piece of silverware in Scotland when his side take on Aberdeen in the Viaplay Cup final this weekend.

“It was a really important evening and a moment to enjoy but not for too long,” he said. “We have a really big game on Sunday.

“I am also happy for all the fans who were here because the support was incredible, during the game, after the game. So I hope they put Hampden Park on fire, but not on fire with pyro, just with songs and the noise.”

David Moyes hailed Edson Alvarez’s performance after the Mexican starred in West Ham’s 2-0 victory over Freiburg to book their place in the last-16 of the Europa League.

Alvarez produced a wonderful assist for Mohammed Kudus in the 14th minute before the midfielder turned scorer later on.

And Moyes lauded both Alvarez and Kudus who were signed from Ajax in the summer.

“He did great (Alvarez),” Moyes said.

“The assist for the first one was a great pass then he did a great bit of link up with Jarrod (Bowen) and scores a big goal so I’m really pleased for him tonight.

“He’s still recovering a bit with illness but I’m really pleased with the things he’s done.

“The two of them (Kudus and Alvarez) have made great contributions already.

“Mainly Mohammed with goals and Edson with other elements and the two will get better.

“The hardest bit to find is the consistency with the intensity of the games.

“They’ve both settled in really well and they’ve done a good job.”

West Ham will avoid playing in the last-32 after tonight’s victory.

Moyes admitted the victory which sealed West Ham’s place at the top of Group A will give his side respite in February.

The Scot also highlighted the Hammers’ emergence in Europe in the last three years.

He added: “It is hugely important for us to get a bit of breathing space in February which we wouldn’t of had if we finished second.

“Qualifying for Europe and winning the group three years in a row now is really good for a side who has not been regular attendees.

“I think that’s 10 wins in Europe in a row now and that’s good for any team. Our control was pretty good and we’ve learnt from the games.

“Tonight we deserved our victory and deserved to top the toughest group out of the three previous years.”

Freiburg manager Christian Streich highlighted West Ham’s quality on the night.

He said: “It’s difficult to shut the gaps down. Jordy Makengo was playing against a top player like Kudus.

“Lucas Paqueta has got fantastic quality and I could really mention the whole team.

“If you don’t play at the highest level it is hard to play against the team at the level of West Ham.”

West Ham qualified directly for the last 16 of the Europe League after a convincing 2-0 win over Freiburg at London Stadium saw them finish top of Group A.

Mohammed Kudus opened the scoring in 14th minute before Edson Alvarez’s strike just before half-time confirmed victory for the Hammers, who had started the match level on 12 points with their German opponents in the race for top spot.

David Moyes’ men bounced back after last weekend’s 5-0 Premier League mauling at Fulham to earn a seeded position in the knockout stages and avoid a play-off.

The hosts, chasing a 10th successive home win in Europe, came close to taking an early lead when Lucas Paqueta struck the Freiburg crossbar in the fifth minute.

A drop of the shoulder by Kudus saw the tricky attacker beat his man before delivering a cross to Paqueta who thundered his effort onto the bar.

However, West Ham’s persistence paid off barely 10 minutes later as they went ahead through Kudus.

Alvarez found the ball in midfield, picked his head up and delivered a lofted pass in behind the Freiburg defence for the Ghana international, who finished expertly past goalkeeper Noah Atubolu.

The goal was credit to the hosts’ early pressure and Kudus’ well-timed run and touch tested the VAR, who allowed the effort to stand despite calls for offside and handball.

Last season’s Europa Conference League champions looked eager to finish their opponents off quickly but Jarrod Bowen’s goal was ruled out for offside by referee Joao Pinheiro.

The England winger had got on the end of a similar ball to the one which had previously caught out the Freiburg defence, however he had failed to hold his line and the score remained 1-0.

At the other end, Freiburg, having already qualified from Group A alongside West Ham, rarely ventured as far as West Ham’s box until Ritsu Doan tested Lukasz Fabianski after 40 minutes.

But creator Alvarez turned scorer moments later to seal the tie.

The Mexican marauded forward with the ball and played a neat one-two with Bowen before finishing his work with a poacher’s finish into the bottom corner.

Freiburg showed a bit more fight in the second half through Doan, who rifled an effort at Fabianski, but it was West Ham who were in the ascendancy and looked more likely to strike the next blow.

Czech full-back Vladimir Coufal overlapped on the right flank and delivered a cut-back cross to Bowen who scuffed his effort over the bar instead of finding the empty net.

The dangerous Doan continued to be the only threat for Freiburg when he forced the save from Fabianski before substitute Noah Weishaupt’s rebounded effort was sliced over the bar.

Kemar Roofe’s late goal earned Rangers a memorable 3-2 win against Real Betis to send the Light Blues into the Europa League knockout stages.

Roofe turned the ball home from close range as Rangers put the pressure on from a 78th-minute corner to clinch top spot in Group C.

The Light Blues inflicted a first home defeat of the season on the Spaniards in Seville as Roofe’s second goal of the season saw them jump above Sparta Prague from third place and send Betis into the Conference League.

Abdallah Sima and Cyriel Dessers had each put Rangers ahead in a thrilling first half but Betis were level before the break and had chances to go ahead only to slip from top spot to third.

Sparta won 3-1 against Aris Limassol to put pressure on Rangers and ultimately go through themselves as the Ibrox side did it the hard way, finishing on 11 points despite dropping five against the Cypriots.

Sima had already seen a half-chance diverted wide before opening the scoring in the 10th minute. James Tavernier and then Ross McCausland drove down the right and Dessers helped the ball on for Sima to fire into the bottom corner from 16 yards.

The lead only lasted four minutes. Juan Miranda had put a dangerous ball across the face of goal moments earlier but McCausland did not heed the warning and failed to track the left-back’s forward run. Miranda burst on to a deft flick from Borja Iglesias and drilled the ball inside the far post.

Rangers survived a torrent of pressure as Betis looked to build on their equaliser. Ben Davies produced a vital block,  Andres Guardado hit the underside of the crossbar and Jack Butland tipped over Hector Bellerin’s strike.

Rangers withstood the pressure and regained the lead in the 20th minute, seconds after taking a throw-in inside their own half. Dessers headed inside for Jose Cifuentes and ran on to the return ball down the left wing.

The Nigeria international went a long way to winning over the Gers fans following a slow start to his Ibrox career when he beat his man and slipped the ball through the goalkeeper’s legs.

This time the lead lasted 17 minutes. Rangers were on the back foot after an attacking move broke down but they had plenty of men back, however Tavernier was slow to spot the danger as Ayoze Perez loitered with intent outside the right-back.

The former Newcastle and Leicester striker curled an inch-perfect first-time shot just inside the far post after being set up by Isco.

Sima and Dessers threatened before the break but Rangers – with Dujon Sterling on for Cifuentes – faced pressure at the start of the second period as Betis twice threatened from set-pieces. Assane Diao headed against the crossbar and Marc Roca miscontrolled the ball inside the six-yard box, allowing Butland to block.

Sam Lammers briefly looked like going clear on goal after dribbling past two players but he seemed to go down easily after being tripped just outside the box and Borna Barisic’s free-kick was blocked.

Rangers had another nervy moment waiting on the VAR verdict when Perez had a goal disallowed for handball after bundling home a rebound.

It was Rangers who struck from similar range moments later.

The Light Blues generally managed the latter stages well until late in stoppage-time when substitute Rabbi Matondo in particular showed naivety in shooting from long range, however Butland scrambled to stop Willian Jose’s header creeping in.

The final whistle soon sounded to continue Rangers’ promising run under recently-appointed manager Philippe Clement, who could now get his hands on his first piece of silverware in Scotland after Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final against Aberdeen.

Joao Pedro made sure Brighton avoided the inconvenience of a Europa League play-off as his superb strike made sure the Seagulls edged Marseille to the top of Group B with a 1-0 victory.

Brazilian Joao Pedro crashed in an 89th-minute winner to continue Brighton’s dream first European campaign.

The 1993 European Cup winners, Marseille, struck the post and the bar through Jonathan Clauss and Amine Harit – and they will now face one of the Champions League third-placed finishers – Galatasaray, Lens, Braga, Benfica, Feyenoord, AC Milan, Young Boys or Shakhtar Donetsk – while Brighton skip straight to the last 16.

Simon Adingra was offered the match’s first chance in the seventh minute when he skipped in from the right to curl powerlessly towards Pau Lopez.

One of the storylines of the game was Joao Pedro versus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the pair the joint-top-scorers of the Europa League group stage with five strikes each.

Joao Pedro always looked likelier to bolster his numbers as he had three half-decent first-half opportunities.

Firstly, the Brazilian could not control the pace of Jack Hinshelwood’s drilled cross and blazed over. Then he had an overhead kick blocked at point-blank range, before the frontman twisted onto his left foot and scuffed towards Lopez.

At the other end, former Arsenal and Chelsea hitman Aubameyang was kept anonymous by Lewis Dunk – who impressed in front of England manager Gareth Southgate.

Kaoru Mitoma also muddied Lopez’s gloves but caused little worry for the Spaniard.

In fact, the closest either side came to a first-half opener was when Clauss found a pocket of space on the edge of the Brighton box in the 15th minute.

The full-back’s shot looped up off Pascal Gross and over a stranded Jason Steele but fortunately for the hosts onto the underside of the bar.

Marseille stuck the frame of the goal again after the break as midfielder Harit fashioned himself space in a crowded box to smash against the base of the post.

Billy Gilmour tried his luck from range and Adingra’s knack of slipping at inopportune moments had him strike over twice.

The final 20 minutes saw any pretence Marseille were attempting to attack ended as they parked 11 players behind the ball and it came back to haunt them.

Substitute Evan Ferguson found a pocket of space in the box but the Irishman could not keep his shot down.

And moments later Joao Pedro notched his sixth goal of the competition with an emphatic finish from just inside the box into the top corner after collecting the ball from Gross.

Roberto De Zerbi, desperate to avoid an extra round, jumped into a section of the home fans to the side of his technical areas as the Amex erupted.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists he will not judge any of his young players on their performance in the 2-1 Europa League dead-rubber defeat to Union Saint Gilloise in Brussels.

Klopp’s team was the youngest in their history by some considerable margin to play a European game with an average age of just 21.9 years and six players aged 20 or under and that showed against the Belgian league leaders.

One of those 20-year-olds Jarell Quansah, who has already made 12 appearances this season, cancelled out Mohammed Amoura’s opener with his first senior goal but Cameron Puertas put the hosts ahead again at the end of an understandably disjointed first half.

Klopp took responsibility for the nature of the performance and absolved his youngsters of any blame.

“I mixed up the team completely, so I think the changes we made, the amount of changes, were too much for rhythm,” he said.

“I would never judge a player after a game like this and say, ‘OK, he’s obviously not good enough’ or whatever.

“I know how good they are because I see them every day in training and tonight is an important experience.

“I don’t think any career ever started without these kind of games where you have to struggle, where you have to fight through, where you have to survive.

“For some it was a really important experience and for others good for rhythm. I saw good performances.

“Of course as a team it is not a fair assessment if I say now they are top of the table in Belgium and we come here, bring kids – altogether that’s really difficult – but I thought we gave it a go and that’s OK for me.

“Nobody got hurt, nobody is injured, so we recover, go home and go again.”

Joel Matip’s surgery this week on an ACL injury leaves Klopp trying to find the most suitable partner for Virgil van Dijk, who along with Alisson Becker and Mohamed Salah was left at home with Liverpool already guaranteed top spot.

Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez played a half apiece to give Klopp a decision on who to pick for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday.

“We just wanted to share the intensity. Do I want to play Joe Gomez 90 or Ibou 90 if we had the chance to do that?,” he added.

“(I decided) 45 and 45, the same in midfield. These changes were planned before the game, independent of the result.”

Liverpool’s youngest European team in their history found the Europa League just too tough for them in Brussels as Jurgen Klopp’s experimental side lost the dead rubber 2-1 at Union Saint Gilloise.

A first senior goal for the ever-improving 20-year-old centre-back Jarell Quansah, their 14th different scorer this season, was the only highlight on a testing evening for Klopp’s young guns.

Quansah’s 40th-minute leveller equalled a club record 34th-successive goal-scoring match, with Manchester United on Sunday standing in the way of a new landmark and Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker all to return after being left at home.

Liverpool’s top spot was already secure despite a second defeat but the win took Union into the Europa Conference League play-offs.

The team’s average age was just 21.9 years old – Wataru Endo, 30, five years older than the next senior player – with only Ibrahima Konate and Cody Gakpo considered regular starters.

No surprise then the early threat came from the hosts, defeated only once on home soil this season, with Noah Sidiki and Koki Machida both off target.

A rare attack saw Gakpo’s balance fail him at the vital moment after chesting down Conor Bradley’s crossfield pass inside the area but Liverpool, with six players 20 or under, understandably struggled for rhythm and control.

Caoimhin Kelleher saved well from Mohammed Amoura and Gustaf Nilsson, who outpaced Quansah to a ball played into the right channel – an avenue from which the opener came.

Both Curtis Jones and Endo looked like they may have been fouled before Amoura burst free to score after Kelleher half-saved his initial effort but VAR ruled there was not enough in those challenges or an offside.

Quansah’s goal was perfectly executed; the defender killing dead Jones’ corner to blast home as compensation for the last-gasp equaliser VAR denied him in the 4-3 defeat to Toulouse last month.

However, Kelleher’s positioning was questionable when Cameron Puertas beat him too easily at his right-hand post just before the break as Union retook the lead.

Joe Gomez replaced Konate – both are competing to start against Manchester United on Sunday but Quansah was the best centre-back on show – and Ryan Gravenberch came on for Endo to reduce the average age even further but it did little to change the flow.

When Puertas beat Kelleher again softly, this time down to his left, Klopp had already sent on Darwin Nunez and 18-year-old left-back Calum Scanlon before VAR ruled out the goal for Lazare Amani’s handball.

Nilsson heading wide and Puertas forcing another save maintained the pressure, however, and the fact Liverpool’s second shot of the game – Anthony Moris saving from Gravenberch and later from Harvey Elliott – in the 78th minute showed how little impact the visitors had.

Liverpool youngster Harvey Elliott wants to shed his ‘super-sub’ tag as quickly as possible but knows he will have to be patient as he tries to break into an established midfield.

The 20-year-old came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner at Crystal Palace at the weekend – not the first time he has made an impact with an energetic substitute appearance.

However, the summer overhaul which brought in World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, Hungary captain Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch after a season at Bayern Munich means most of Elliott’s starts have been restricted to minor competitions like the Europa League.

He will get another chance in the dead rubber against Union Saint-Gilloise in Brussels and accepts the more pitch time he gets the more he can build towards his goal of becoming a regular starter.

“I don’t really want to be known as a super-sub,” said Elliott, who was looking like becoming an established starter for manager Jurgen Klopp until an horrific dislocation fracture of his ankle in September 2021 which sidelined him for four months.

“It’s a great headline but at the same time I want to be in the team.

“It’s time for myself to establish myself in that position again and hopefully get a good run of games but, at the same time, I need to be patient as well and maybe be the super-sub as well.”

Klopp had some sympathy for the youngster but absolutely no doubt in his talent.

“What we forget sometimes is that Harvey is still super young but has played an incredible amount of games already and before his serious injury he was the best player we had available,” Klopp said.

“It took him a while to get back up to speed again but with his skill-set he should be super influential but a player like him needs the finishes as well, the shot and the last pass, and the last game was a sign of how good this boy can be.”

Although only 20, Elliott is considered one of the senior players in the squad in Belgium as more than half are aged 21 and under, with the average age of the travelling party just short of 22.

With Liverpool already qualified as group winners, Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah have all been left at home with Manchester United on Sunday in mind.

Also missing is Mac Allister, whose knee injury sustained against Sheffield United last week is causing slightly more issues than expected, while centre-back Joel Matip underwent surgery on Thursday on his ACL injury which is likely to rule him out for the rest of the season.

“They (medical staff) have explained it to me every single day why he is not ready yet and it’s a bit more tricky than we thought,” added Klopp.

“The stud went through the muscle pretty much to the bone so now we have to wait until the bone is healed and until Macca can deal with the pain. We have to make sure there is no infection and nothing happens.

“I’ve never had this injury with one of my players before but now we have it and I hope it will not take that long to heal.

“I would like to say it is day by day but then it looks like he could be ready for the next game but they say he will not be ready for that. I hope the next three or four days he makes big steps and we will see.”

Rangers suffered another selection blow ahead of two crucial matches after Todd Cantwell was ruled out of the trip to Spain.

The former Norwich midfielder will not feature in the Europa League decider against Real Betis on Thursday because of personal reasons.

Manager Philippe Clement was already missing Ryan Jack, Tom Lawrence and Nico Raskin from his midfield through injury as Rangers chase the win they need to guarantee progress.

Clement experienced other bad news this week. Ecuador midfielder Jose Cifuentes lost his appeal against the red card he received against Dundee on Saturday, which rules him out of Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final against Aberdeen through suspension.

And striker Danilo has been ruled out for several months with the knee injury he suffered in last Wednesday’s win over Hearts.

Clement said: “Todd is not here because of personal circumstances, and he wants to keep it personal, so we respect that. It’s nothing between the club and him, or me and him, it’s just family-wise.

“There’s a really big chance (he will be available for Sunday) but it’s not guaranteed.

“I hoped Ryan would be back but it’s not the case. Danilo will be out for several months, but I don’t want to pinpoint on an exact number of months for now until is all clear.

“I was surprised with the Cifuentes decision. None of the Dundee players reacted at the time. They just continued to attack as it was a duel with a contact. It is disappointing to lose the player for two games. But I don’t have any power in that so we will focus on the guys who are available.”

Clement is also without midfielder Kieran Dowell and defenders Leon Balogun and Ridvan Yilmaz, who are not in the club’s European squad.

“It’s quite a list of players injured and not on the European list. But it’s about the guys who are here,” he said. “They are here with ambition and to prove themselves as a team.

Rangers will go through to the knockout stages regardless of the result in Seville if Sparta Prague fail to beat Aris Limassol in Cyprus. But victory for the Czechs would leave Rangers needing to beat Betis to finish in the top two, a result which would seal top spot in Group C.

The Ibrox club are assured of European football beyond Christmas with third place sealing entry to the Conference League knockout stages.

Betis are unbeaten at home in LaLiga this season and have won both of their Group C games on home territory.

Clement said: “We have a lot of respect for them but we come here with ambition. Rangers have nothing to lose. We are in Europe next year but we want to make the next step. This may be the biggest challenge until now and we go all out for it.

“Real Betis is a different style than what we have faced. Real Madrid didn’t win here which shows how big a test it is but I feel something special in the group. I can see a really good dynamic growing in the dressing room. Everyone stays confident even after going behind.

“I see several players becoming better and better, we need to continue that story against a really good opponent.”

Meanwhile, Alex Rae has been confirmed as first-team coach on an ongoing basis after returning to Ibrox when Steven Davis took caretaker charge and staying on under Clement and assistant Stephan van der Heyden.

The former Gers midfielder told the club’s official website: “Everyone knows how much this club means to me and I am determined to help the gaffer and Stephan bring silverware back to Rangers.

“We are still in four competitions and we have a lot to look forward to this season.”

Liverpool have travelled to Belgium with just 12 recognised first-team senior players for their Europa League dead rubber against Union Saint-Gilloise.

With Manchester United visiting Anfield on Sunday manager Jurgen Klopp has left behind Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah from the team which beat Crystal Palace last weekend.

However, he has retained the likes of Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch, while 20-year-old Jarell Quansah, who has already made 12 appearances this season, and winger Ben Doak, who has also featured in the Europa League and Premier League, are likely to get starts – as will second-choice goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

It means there are 10 youngsters, all aged between 18 and 21, who have travelled with a chance of action in Brussels as all of them bar Lewis Koumas, son of former West Brom, Tranmere and Wigan midfielder Jason, have made at least one first-team appearance.

Included in that number is 19-year-old Kaide Gordon, who played four times in 2020-21 but has missed most of the last 18 months through injury.

West Ham are still being affected by the sickness bug that contributed to their 5-0 rout by Fulham on Sunday.

David Moyes has revealed that some players are struggling with illness as the Hammers look to finish top of Group A of the Europa League by securing at least a draw against SC Freiburg on Thursday night.

The London Stadium clash is the first of four matches in three competitions over 10 days for West Ham, who have already qualified for the knockout phase but are hoping to progress as top seeds and thereby avoid the burden of a play-off over two legs.

“We’ve had a few people with a bit of illness. We’ve still got a few lingering with it in the last day or two, but we think we’re OK,” Moyes said.

“I don’t think it’s anything that will keep people out for weeks or anything like that, there has just been a bit of sickness and all sorts going on. It’s just been keeping us under the weather a little bit.”

West Ham leaked five goals at Craven Cottage, ending a six-match unbeaten run which had lifted them to ninth in the Premier League as well as offering sight of direct entry into the Europa League’s round of 16.

“I obviously didn’t enjoy the weekend’s game. Whatever happened before that doesn’t make it any easier,” said Moyes, who gave his players two days off at the start of the week in anticipation of the hectic period coming up.

“We’ve had a really gruelling schedule and the trips we’ve had caught up with us a little bit.

“Hopefully we can correct that and get back to our normal way which is winning and playing better than we did do.

“We had a little bit of illness that didn’t help with the chopping and changing. Hopefully we can get back to normality.”

West Ham are the current Europa Conference League champions after toppling Fiorentina 2-1 in the final in June and Moyes sees the competition as an important stage for his team.

“The last few years we’ve had some really good nights at London Stadium. I think back to Seville and Alkmaar,” he said.

“Some of the games have been special, special nights for us. But we’re not quite at that stage yet, it’s still the group.

“We’ve won the group for the last two years and winning it three years in a row would be really tough because Freiburg are a good team.

“We’re in Europe after Christmas and that’s the most important thing, whether we’re first or second. We’ll try to be first, but that’s the big thing for us.

“The Premier League will always be first and foremost for me, but the cup competitions are something that we take as seriously as we can.”

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