Hat-trick scorers Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edin Džeko took the top two slots in the FedEx Performance Zone rankings; final ambassador Patrik Andersson helps track the star performers.
Patrik Andersson praised established stars and new talents alike after hat-trick heroes Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edin Džeko took the top two slots in the FedEx Performance Zone rankings, and Lyon and Anderlecht players also gained ground, following the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first legs.
1: Zlatan Ibrahimović (Manchester United)
Ibrahimović had been overtaken by Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette earlier on Thursday but responded with a hat-trick in United's 3-0 defeat of St-Étienne to regain top spot. In addition to his treble, he created three chances, won three aerial duels, and was a constant thorn in the St-Étienne defence, even earning the penalty that gave him the opportunity to score a third.
He said: "It feels good. I got a lot of help from my team-mates [and] it was important to get a good result so we can take it into the second leg. We won 3-0 and I got to score the three goals so I am happy for that. We still have many games to play so hopefully I can continue like I am doing."
2: Edin Džeko (Roma)
Džeko racked up his second hat-trick of this UEFA Europa League campaign in a fabulous 4-0 victory for Roma at Villarreal to reclaim second place. His recent form has been outstanding, his triple taking him to ten goals in his last seven matches in all competitions.
He said: "I'm happy about my performance. It's always good to get on the scoresheet and I'm even happier about my hat trick, but in the end the most important thing is that the team did well and won a difficult game.
3: Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon)
Lacazette moved into the top three in the rankings thanks to his two goals which helped his side win 4-1 at AZ Alkmaar. He converted his two attempts on goal and produced an impressive four dribbles in an exemplary display.
6: Emerson Palmieri (Roma)
Not only did the Brazilian full-back break the deadlock against Villarreal, he played a vital role in helping Roma register a clean sheet. He made six defensive interventions and excelled going forward with eight crosses and two dribbles, duly leaping to sixth, with only United's Antonio Valencia ahead of him in his position.
12: Lucas Tousart (Lyon)
Tousart was one of the day's biggest climbers courtesy of his superb attacking performance, capped by a goal and an assist. He laid on two fine chances, engineered an excellent through ball and constantly probed between the lines, teasing AZ's defence.
He said: "It was a difficult match. When you look at the score it doesn't seem so, but it was, especially because of the results of our last couple of matches. I was delighted with my performance. I don't score very often and tonight I got the first one which was very important. And I also delivered an assist. It was a very productive evening for me."
29: Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht)
Acheampong rose to 29th overall with two goals from his only two attempts on target in the 2-0 victory over Zenit. He carved out another three chances for team-mates and only failed with three of his 19 passes in a bright display.
He said: "The Europa League is important for us. It is good we had no injuries and nobody expected us to be at this level. In football you cannot predict the result so we just played as a team, everybody worked hard and that's the reason for this massive win. My personal performance was not perfect but at least I scored two goals, though I must say it was a team effort."
62: Andy Najar (Anderlecht)
Anderlecht's Honduran full-back had an outstanding game to help shut out Zenit. He produced seven interceptions, won two tackles, made two clearances and won three aerial duels in what was an impeccable defensive showing.
He said: "After almost a month out I was back and I played well, after the coach had shown confidence in me. I am happy with my performance but most importantly I am glad about the work of the team. We played well and achieved a positive result."
76 Christian Noboa (Rostov)
The Ecuadorian international had a central role in Rostov's 4-0 success over Sparta Praha. Besides scoring the third, he had six attempts on goal, won two corners, and almost half of his completed passes (17 of 35) came in the final third. An impressive result given this was his side's first competitive outing since matchday six in December.
He said: "The key to victory was a good tactical plan by our coach. We used the free space well and worked astutely against our opponents without the ball. I think I played well, but I am not 100% because we have had no competitive games for two months. All of us need to find our best shape. The whole team should continue to improve. This will have a positive impact on performances."
Patrik Andersson's view
When the knockout stages begin the big players really start to prove their worth and that's exactly what happened with Ibrahimović and Džeko. It's also pleasing to see other less heralded players like Acheampong – fresh from the Africa Cup of Nations – and Tousart impress. The UEFA Europa League gives young talents an opportunity to shine and the FedEx Performance Zone backs it up with the stats.
I really enjoyed watching last night's matches. St-Étienne gave Manchester United a rest test in the first half and I thought the 3-0 final scoreline was harsh. Some big results elsewhere as well, with Rostov, Beşiktaş and Schalke all looking well-placed to reach the next round.
Patrik Andersson is a former Bayern München, Barcelona and Borussia Mönchengladbach defender. He won 96 caps for Sweden, reaching the semi-finals of EURO '92 and the 1994 FIFA World Cup, and was part of the Bayern side that won the UEFA Champions League in 2001 – he made the UEFA.com user's Team of the Year that year.
He retired in 2005 and now lives in Stockholm, venue for this season's UEFA Europa League final. He is serving as ambassador for the showpiece and is this campaign's FedEx Performance Zone ambassador.