Which players to look out for in this season's UEFA Europa League
Thursday, September 16, 2021
We comb through last season's numbers to pick out ten potential stars of the new campaign.
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The UEFA Europa League is a great place for brilliant players to get noticed, and a new campaign brings new opportunities.
After assessing match data specific to each player's position (such as clean sheets, tackles and attempts blocked for defenders; goals, assists, crosses and passes for midfielders and forwards), we have picked out ten players who caught the eye as their sides reached the 2020/21 knockout phase and could figure among the stars of the new campaign.
Mislav Oršić (Dinamo Zagreb)
The hat-trick hero of the Croatian champions' shock elimination of Tottenham Hotspur last season, the 28-year-old has scored a club-record 19 UEFA competition goals, including six in 2020/21, plus two assists.
Eran Zahavi (PSV)
A gift that keeps on giving, the Israeli striker scored five Europa League goals for PSV last season (after returning to Europe from a spell in China). Six more shots on target (and four off) were another measure of the 34-year-old's nose for goal.
Alfredo Morelos (Rangers)
Quick and strong, the meaty Colombian forward provided four assists and three goals; as well as those attacking returns, Morelos played over 700 minutes of Rangers' campaign, which added to his plus points.
Moussa Diaby (Leverkusen)
A left-footer who is comfortable on either wing, Diaby regularly draws comparisons with Liverpool's Sadio Mané. Scored four and set up three, with five further shots on target an indication of his presence on the pitch.
Mikel Merino (Sociedad)
Usually deployed as a midfield pivot, Merino has aerial presence and nous with the ball at his feet too: 31 ball recoveries in eight games, plus a passing accuracy that ranged from 77-93% spoke volumes of his performances.
Cengiz Ünder (Marseille)
A left-footed, right-sided midfielder who likes to cause opponents problems, Cengiz Ünder scored once and grabbed attention with ten attempts on target while on loan from Roma at Leicester.
The Brazilian winger scored two goals and set up five more in his seven games during the 2020/21 competition, the 23-year-old also recovering 23 balls in his bid to take the game to Braga's opponents.
El Fardou Ben Nabouhane (Crvena zvezda)
'Ben' has scored 14 European goals for 'Red Star' since joining in 2018, six of them coming last season. The Comoros forward, 32, also delivered two assists and 20 ball recoveries in his eight Europa League outings.
Youssef El-Arabi (Olympiacos)
A key man as Olympiacos parachuted into last season's round of 32, the Moroccan did enough in five games to join this list: namely, three goals (including two against Arsenal in the round of 16) from six shots on target.
Ritchie de Laet (Antwerp)
The defender represented Manchester United, Leicester and Aston Villa before returning to his first professional club in 2019. The 32-year-old's experience translated into 46 ball recoveries, many clearances and a passing accuracy that reached 95% at home to Ludogorets.