Philippe Clement is unhappy at only being able to make three changes to his Europa League squad following a transfer window which left him “happy”.

The signing of Colombian winger Oscar Cortes on loan from Lens with an option to buy in the summer on deadline day was the third new recruit, following the arrival of Portuguese attacker Fabio Silva on loan from Wolves and Ivorian midfielder Mohamed Diomande on loan from Danish side Nordsjaelland.

Defenders Ridvan Yilmaz and Leon Balogun were left out of the Euro squad at the start of the season by then boss Michael Beale but have become key players under Clement.

Abdallah Sima, Kemar Roofe, Danilo and Kieran Dowell are long-term injured but could be fit for the latter stages of the Europa League if Rangers progress.
Ben Davies is out at the moment while Sam Lammers has joined Utrecht on loan and Jose Cifuentes could also be on his way out, the midfielder linked with a loan move to Brazilian club Cruzeiro.

Ahead of the cinch Premiership game against Livingston at Ibrox on Saturday – Rangers are five points behind leaders Celtic with a game in hand – Clement  revealed he had spoken to his players about the Euro squad for the last-16 ties in March.

The Belgian boss said: “I had discussions with the players about that this afternoon.

“I am not happy with the rule. But the rule is the rule of course for all the team and I also understand the idea behind it.

“I was not totally aligned with how the European list was at the beginning of the season but it was what it was and I can only make three changes now.

“So the reality is a few players I wanted on the list cannot be on the list.

“If you only have three position to change there is not much to think about but if you guys (media) think a bit logically, you will see the logic.”

Some Rangers fans expressed surprise that another striker to give competition to Cyriel Dessers was not brought in but Clement, who took over the Light Blues in October, explained his thinking.

He said: “I will never speak about what we wanted.

“Everyone in the building worked really hard and compared to a lot of other teams we did interesting things with the three guys we brought in.

“I am happy with the squad that is here now.

“About the striking position, everyone is saying that Cyriel has had a big evolution in the last three months, Fabio has already shown good things, he is still adapting, that is normal.

“Kemar is still in the building, I expect him to be fit this this season, we will see if Danilo is back or not at the end of the season, we will not risk him for two or three weeks but he will be in the building next season so we have to take those things into account.

“We also have Zak Lovelace also who has been out injured for three months and he has a bright future.

“So we could have six or seven strikers but you cannot put them all on so you have to take that into account.”

Roberto De Zerbi hailed Brighton’s last-gasp 1-0 victory over Marseille to top Europa League Group B as a “historic moment” in the club’s history.

Joao Pedro smashed in an 89th-minute winner at the Amex Stadium to make sure the Seagulls avoided the play-off round and instead slotted straight into the last 16.

Italian De Zerbi, who masterminded progressing from a group that included Ajax and AEK Athens along with the French 1993 European Cup winners, said: “We haven’t won anything…yet, but we are really happy and proud.

“I told the players before the game that the game was more important for us than them. Marseille are used to playing in European competitions.

“To finish at the top of the table is a historical moment.

“The atmosphere during the game was incredible. The crowd were a 12th player like I’ve never seen before.

“It is important because we don’t have to play an extra game.

“After going 2-0 down in Marseille in the first game, we changed everything and after that game we won four games in a row with four clean sheets in a row. That is incredible.”

De Zerbi dedicated the result to the players and fans of former club Foggia – who lost a Serie C title decider to Gennaro Gattuso-managed Pisa in 2016.

His revenge on the now Marseille boss came courtesy of Joao Pedro – who ended the group stage with six goals and the competition’s leading scorer.

The Brazilian was threaded through by Pascal Gross before skipping past a tackle and thumping into the top corner, making the Amex erupt and De Zerbi jump into the crowd.

De Zerbi said of his goalscorer: “Joao is playing very well. He is becoming a great player in mentality – which playing for his national team has helped.

“The qualities of Joao are clear. We want to help him become a great player.”

Joao Pedro added: “I’m very happy. These are the best moments of my life. Thank you to my team-mates, they always support me.

“I’m very happy to be top scorer in the Europa League. To be top of the table, in the league or top scorer, you need to keep going through hard work.”

Marseille just needed a draw to avoid a play-off match against one of the teams that finished third in the Champions League.

Jonathan Clauss and Amine Harit both hit the woodwork before the visitors parked the bus, only to be undone by Brighton’s late winner.

Boss Gattuso said: “We knew what type of match this would be. We knew what level Brighton play at and the quality they have.

“We prepared to face them but their level of quality was too strong.

“We didn’t lack courage but it is the quality in the end that showed.”

Toulouse president Damien Comolli insists that his club’s use of data is the reason behind their success rather than “football wisdom”.

The entire football operation of the Ligue 1 club, who beat Liverpool in the Europa League last week, is entirely driven by data, from player and manager recruitment to which set-pieces to use in a match and when.

It is bearing fruit as promotion from Ligue 2 in 2022 was followed by success in last season’s Coupe de France, which earned them their ticket to European football this season. 

 

And Comolli, who worked at Tottenham and Liverpool as sporting director, believes all their success comes from their use and understanding of the data.

“Our whole football operation is driven by data, whether it his how we recruit a coach or sign a player, the way we play, the way we attack, the way we defend, from where we shoot, from where we cross, where we press,” Comolli said at Web Summit in Lisbon.

“We try to optimise the wage bill and transfer budget using data. Data is part of our culture.

“Where we gain a competitive advantage is we have decided to stick by data compared to the football wisdom. We are very disciplined at it.

“At the moment we are struggling in the league, doing well in Europe. But with underlying data, we don’t look at results.

“The day after the game, none of the pages of the match report will contain the result. It will show the underlying data, why we lost or why we won.

“We need a bridge between the mathematics and science and the football people. Those individuals that can translate the data that is applicable to coaches and understandable to everyone, that bridge is absolutely key.”

The use of data and artificial intelligence is quickly becoming more prominent in today’s game and Comolli believes it will have a big impact in the future of the game.

He thinks that it will be particularly important in injury prevention.

“In the last four seasons our player availability for per game has been at 95 per cent, the highest in France,” Comolli added. “We are constantly using data to measure player’s loads, we are are using AI to measure in-game data.

“In the future it will help coaches make better decisions, when to make a substitution, when to make a tactical adjustment or not make one.

“We played at Anfield, we were losing 4-1, our best striker was still on the pitch and we had a game a few days later. I messaged the analyst, ‘Why is he still on the pitch?’.

“His data was showing he was in the red, so we brought him off. He went on to score in the next four games, maybe if we played him for longer he would have got injured or fatigued.”

Boss Unai Emery believes Aston Villa proved their European credentials after an emphatic 4-1 win at AZ Alkmaar.

Leon Bailey, Youri Tielemans, Ollie Watkins and John McGinn struck as dominant Villa cruised to victory in the Europa Conference League.

It was a second 4-1 win in two games – following Sunday’s victory over West Ham – and Villa earned successive Group E triumphs after dispatching last year’s beaten semi-finalists.

“If we want to be a contender we have to show every day and when we are playing those matches, we have to show everybody our wishes. I think we did it,” Emery told a press conference.

“We are respecting them because they played in the semi-final last year against West Ham. They won last year against Lazio, they won last year against Anderlecht and it’s because they have experiences in European competitions.

“I am very happy with the players because I think they have to be mature, responsible and demanding themselves, not only when I’m pushing them. They have to try to increase their own individual and collective level.”

Bailey opened the scoring when Villa cashed in on wasteful play from AZ and Tielemans doubled the lead 10 minutes later.

Watkins made it 3-0 six minutes after the restart when Bailey’s shot was saved by former Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

Just five minutes later, McGinn added a fourth when he turned Bailey’s cross in at the near post.

AZ improved and pulled a goal back through Ibrahim Sadiq’s fine drive from the edge of the box with 25 minutes left.

Home defender David Moller-Wolfe said: “I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never played against such a good team.

“I felt when we tried to press them high, they just went in behind us and when we stayed they played in between us. That said, I don’t see why we can’t go to Villa Park in a few weeks and beat them.”

Steven Davis is determined to  make the most of his chance in the Rangers hotseat as he admitted it came sooner than expected.

The 38-year-old Northern Ireland international, who had two successful spells as a player at Ibrox, was asked by the Gers board on Sunday evening to take the reins until they appoint a new permanent boss following the departure of Michael Beale.

The former Gers midfielder, who had been returning to fitness at the Ibrox club after a serious knee injury despite his contract expiring in the summer, will be assisted by fellow former Rangers players Alex Rae and Steven Smith, as well as coach Brian Gilmour and goalkeeping coach Colin Stewart.

Speaking in Cyprus ahead of the Europa League clash with Aris Limassol in Cyprus on Thursday night, Davis spoke about a “whirlwind” few days while addressing his future.

“Obviously it came out of the blue,” said Davis, who revealed Nicolas Raskin and Kemar Roofe have returned from injury.

“Sunday evening, I was just at home. It wasn’t a call that I was expecting.

“Things moved very fast and I came in on Monday morning and I started to work.

“It was James Bisgrove (chief executive) and Craig Robertson (board member) that I received the phonecall from.

“Obviously it was a bit of a whirlwind after that. I went off the phone and I had a few conversations but my decision was made very quickly.

“I was honoured by the fact the board had that conversation and my name came up and they put their trust in me to try and do this job.

“I’m going to give it my all to try and be successful.

“Listen, there’s not been any conversation in terms of a time frame. I all happened very quickly.

“I was asked to come in and take the game tonight. How things play out after that I’m not too sure.

“Regarding my feelings around it, I’ve obviously got ambitions. I did not quite expect it to happen quite as soon.

“I’m just determined really to make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given and we will see what develops from there.

“I’ve got the experience of Alex Rae in beside me and Colin Stewart and Steven Smith and Brian.

“I’ve had a lot of messages from managers I’ve worked under. Unfortunately I’ve not had a chance to respond because it’s been quite intense preparing for this game.

“I appreciate the support I’ve been given but I haven’t had the chance to reach out to anyone or felt the need to just yet.”

Beale departed the club following the 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen at Ibrox which left the Light Blues seven points behind cinch Premiership leaders Celtic, albeit they beat Real Betis 1-0 in their first Europa League fixture.

Davis insists it is time for everyone at the club to “step up”.

He said: “‘Listen, there’s a lot of character within the dressing room. There’s a lot of leaders in there as well.

“Everyone knows it’s time to step up. The great thing about football is you get another opportunity to turn things around.

“It’s not a position we want to be in. Everybody is hurting from it.

“The main focus is first and foremost getting a result on Thursday and building on it from there.

“We won our opening group game. We are in a strong position and we want to build on that

“I think for us we just want to give the boys the freedom to go out and play to their strengths really.”

Rangers take on Real Betis in their Europa League opener on Thursday night.

The Light Blues have had a difficult start to the season and are under pressure to turn in a positive performances at Ibrox.

Here is the lowdown on the Gers’ opponents ahead of the Group C encounter.

Form

The Spanish side have started the season in patchy form with just two wins in five La Liga matches to leave them 10th in the table, eight points behind leaders Real Madrid. Real Betis have beaten Villarreal and Rayo Vallecano, drawn against Atletico Madrid and lost to Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. The 5-0 loss to Barca at the weekend could mean confidence has taken a dent but their fans will hope their side can exploit any anxiety at Ibrox. Betis finished sixth last season, 28 points behind Barcelona.

Manager

Manuel Pellegrini is one of the most experienced managers in the game. The 70-year-old Chilean has been a boss since 1988 when he took over at Universidad de Chile in his homeland. A globetrotting career has followed and he has been in the  hot seat at clubs like River Plate, Real Madrid, Manchester City and West Ham, among others.  Pellegrini joined Manchester City in 2013 and won the Premier League and League Cup double in his first season, winning the League Cup again in 2015/16. Most recently, he won the Copa del Rey in 2022 with Los Verdiblancos, who he joined in 2020.

Players

There has been a lot of recent speculation around which players Pellegrini will have at his disposal for the trip to Glasgow, with reports suggesting four key players will be back in contention. Former Manchester City and Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo – aged 40 – is recovering from a calf injury and could make his first start of the season after Portugal goalkeeper Rui Silva had to come off against Barcelona with a thigh injury to be replaced by debutant Fran Vieites, who usually plays for Betis B. Captain and Mexico international Andres Guardado had been missing with an ankle injury but could return along with William Carvalho, who has won 80 caps for Portugal, and right-back Aitor Ruibal. Brazilian striker Willian Jose has scored four of Betis’s five goals this season. Spain internationals Hector Bellerin and Borja Iglesias are also in the Betis squad.

European pedigree

Real Betis have never won a European trophy and have taken part in the Champions League on only one occasion, in 2005/06. Betis finished third behind Liverpool and Chelsea and above Anderlecht in Group G with seven points, dropping down to the UEFA Cup where they were knocked out in the last 16 by Steaua Bucharest. In the 2021/22 season they were drawn in the same group as Celtic in the Europa League, winning 4-3 at home and losing 3-2 at Celtic Park. Last season they were knocked out of the Europa League at the last-16 stage by Manchester United 5-1 on aggregate.

Leon Balogun and Kieran Dowell have missed out on Rangers’ Europa League squad.

Kemar Roofe and Tom Lawrence are included after missing out on the squad for the Champions League qualifiers, as they closed in on their comebacks from long-term injury lay-offs.

Dowell has made six appearances since his summer move from Norwich, including three in the Champions League. He has missed recent matches with a minor knee injury.

https://x.com/RangersFC/status/1701584504068976861?s=20

Balogun has played twice since returning to Ibrox in the summer following a season with QPR.

Scott Wright is in the squad while Rangers confirmed the likes of Leon King and Adam Devine would be included on the list of young players who can feature outside the 25-man squad.

Rangers open their group campaign at home to Real Betis on September 21 and also take on Aris Limassol and Sparta Prague.

Europa League debutants Brighton were drawn to take on former Champions League winners Ajax and Marseille in Friday’s group stage draw.

Roberto De Zerbi’s men secured a first season in continental football with a sixth-place finish in last season’s Premier League table, and their reward is matches against four-time European champions Ajax and the 1993 European Cup winners Marseille.

The Seagulls’ other group opponents are reigning Greek champions AEK Athens, with the first round of group stage games to be played on Thursday, September 21.

Roma boss Jose Mourinho said he was proud of his players despite defeat on penalties to Sevilla in the Europa League final.

Mourinho was set to become the most decorated European manager in history with six major trophies and after a Paulo Dybala goal put them in front in Budapest it was looking likely.

However, the Italian team went on to concede an own goal and lost 4-1 on penalties as Roger Ibanez and Gianluca Mancini missed from the spot.

Mourinho, who appeared to give his medal to a child in the stands after the game, told UEFA.com: “I’ve won five European finals over the years and on this occasion I’m no less proud than the five times I won.

“I am proud of the players. I told them before that we would either be leaving with the cup or we’d be dead on our feet.

“We’re leaving dead on our feet. The players are totally exhausted and so am I, both physically and psychologically.”

 

 

Sevilla players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out (Adam Davy/ PA)We felt pressure against a team that has more talent than us. We lost a game but not dignity. I’ve never gone home prouder than today, even when I won.

“We had also worked hard on penalties but we missed two – but all together, not only the penalty takers.

“The boys must go home peacefully, with pride for having done what they have done. These are my boys from Budapest.”

Roma’s former Manchester United defender Chris Smalling added: “It’s a big disappointment. When it comes to penalties it’s hard to lose.

“We were determined to win and we left everything on the pitch. Seeing others celebrate will stay with us for a long time. We have to try to have another chance next season.”

Meanwhile, Sevilla forward Erik Lamela told BT Sport it was a really tough game as Sevilla won their seventh Europa League title.

“This is amazing, I can’t ask for more, this feeling is unbelievable,” the former Tottenham player said.

“(It was a) really tough game, not an easy game to play, we were not feeling in our best way because they defended well and it was difficult to find the spaces and create situations.

“But this team fought it out and tonight we’re going to enjoy it.”

West Ham and Jamaica forward, Michael Antonio, has backed the team to score an away win against German club Eintracht Frankfurt, in the UEFA Europa League next week, despite losing the first leg of the semi-final tie in London.

After the team trailed to the German outfit early on, it was Antonio who restored parity when he scored for the first time since early March.  Eintracht, however, went back in front through Japanese international Daichi Kamada and went on to hold on for a valuable away win.

Despite losing the first leg at home, Antonio has backed the East London team to get a result on the road, which could see the team secure a spot in the final.

“Down but nowhere near out. Still a lot of football to be played, we’re getting that W next week. ⚒ #COYI,” Antonio posted via social media platform Twitter.

West Ham will travel to Deutsche Bank Park next Thursday, hoping to overturn the first-leg deficit.  The goal was the second for Antonio in the competition this season.

 

Spartak Moscow, the Russian Premier League club of Reggae Boy forward, Shamar Nicholson, will not be allowed to host its last 16 tie of the Europa League.

The ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which has sparked global condemnation, prompted the European football governing body to reschedule all the club’s matches for neutral venues, following an emergency meeting on Friday.  The ruling applies to all Russian and Ukrainian teams in European competitions.

Spartak Moscow has been drawn to face RB Leipzig in the round of 16, with the tie commencing at the Red Bull Arena in Germany, on March 10.  The return leg will take place the following week, but the venue is yet to be announced.

"The UEFA Executive Committee also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice,” a release issued from the sport’s governing body explained.

Nicholson joined the Moscow club from Belgian Pro League side RSC Charleroi, where he scored 13 goals and five assists in 18 matches last year.

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