John McGinn is quickly turning his focus to the "astronomical achievement" of Champions League qualification after Aston Villa suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Villa were among the favourites to lift Europe's third-tier trophy but a 2-0 defeat at Olympiacos on Thursday consigned Unai Emery's men to a 6-2 aggregate loss over the two-leg tie.

It means Villa end what has largely been viewed as an excellent season without a trophy but they can still finish on a high by securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They lead fifth-place Tottenham by seven points with two games left in their domestic season, albeit Spurs do have a game in hand.

McGinn apologised to the travelling support in Piraeus but, speaking to TNT Sports after the game, said there is still an opportunity to finish the season on a high.

"We went into this competition as favourites and we handled that pressure throughout the competition, I think it’s been a huge learning curve for us," he said.

"It's not been a smooth journey, we got to the semi-finals down to the bare bones a bit.

"However, those of us who were out there over the two legs, we lost to who were the better team and I think the scoreline proves it."

"Our instant feeling is absolutely gutted. We all wanted to be back here for the final.

"Olympiacos gave it absolutely everything, played out of their skin in both legs, and overall the scoreline proves they were the better team.

"We'll reflect, there's a lot of things we could have done better, but over the season, of course, we can be proud of the journey.

"Obviously, we need to apologise to the supporters who have travelled here, they've travelled the whole campaign with us.

"We wanted to deliver a trophy to them, we all wanted it as players. We’'e all bitterly disappointed, but we need a big push in the last two games to try and get over the line for the Champions League, which would be an astronomical achievement.

"But here, the overriding feeling is disappointment, frustration and an opportunity missed. Congratulations to Olympiacos and we wish them all the best in the final."

Olympiacos will face Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final after an Ayoub El Kaabi double secured a 6-2 aggregate win over Aston Villa.

After a stunning 4-2 win at Villa Park last weekend to take the ascendancy in the semi-final tie, first-leg hat-trick hero El Kaabi struck early before netting again late on to stamp out any hopes of a Villa comeback.

After a strong start from the visitors, El Kaabi scored his fourth goal of the tie just 10 minutes into Thursday's second leg at Stadio Georgios Karaiskaki, getting on the end of Quini's low cross to turn home at the far post.

It looked an uphill battle for Villa, who dominated the possession throughout the contest in Greece but struggled to make a dent in the stubborn hosts.

Douglas Luiz saw a long-range effort saved by Kostas Tzolakis while the Olympiacos goalkeeper also denied Moussa Diaby. El Kaabi made sure late on, getting on the end of a long ball to fire past Martinez and secure Olympiacos' final berth.

The fairytale comeback never materialised for Villa, and it will be Olympiacos who take on Fiorentina at the Agia Sophia Stadium in the Greek capital of Athens on May 29, looking to utilise familiar surroundings to claim their first major European trophy.

Data debrief

El Kaabi was the hero again for Olympiacos as his two second-leg finishes took him to 10 Europa Conference League goals for the campaign, more than any other player, while his 13 strikes in major European competitions are also more than any other player when factoring in his three Europa League goals.

Villa had 73.9 per cent of the ball in the second leg, yet their 1.14 xG (expected goals) was still inferior to Olympiacos' 1.23 as the Greek Super League side's ruthlessness clinched their spot in the final.

Unai Emery says Thursday's Europa Conference League clash with Olympiacos is Aston Villa's "biggest challenge" of the season.

Villa are 4-2 down after a shock defeat in the first leg of the semi-final tie at Villa Park last week.

While they are pushing for a top-four finish in the Premier League, Emery believes attempting to overturn the deficit in Greece will prove to be Villa's biggest test yet.

"This is the challenge tomorrow, the biggest challenge we’re going to face this year, playing in this semi-final," Emery said.

"I will find the best performances tomorrow and really be competitive.

"Of course, it's going to be very difficult here away because the atmosphere supporting the home team could be more difficult.

"In 90 minutes, we have to be focused with everything tactically, being in control of our emotions, set-pieces as well, everything."

Olympiacos or Villa will face Fiorentina in the final on May 29, after the Serie A club overcame Club Brugge on Wednesday.

Aston Villa captain, John McGinn said that “everything that could have gone wrong, did” after their Europa Conference League semi-final first-leg defeat to Olympiacos on Thursday.

Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick for Olympiacos, netting twice in the first half, though Villa fought back through Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby.

El Kaabi converted a spot-kick before a deflected Santiago Hezze strike put the visitors back in control.

Douglas Luiz also missed a late penalty, leaving Villa with a two-goal deficit to overturn in the second leg next Thursday.

Asked what he felt went wrong for the Villans, McGinn, speaking to TNT Sports, said: "Not the game we wanted. We wanted a lot more control. We started the game well.

"They're a good side. We wanted a victory going to Greece. We showed we're capable of coming back.

"Mistakes all round tonight. We'll take responsibility, but it's up to us to go to Athens and turn it around because we're capable.

"They played very well tactically. They played the way we expected, so there were no surprises.

"Everything that could have gone wrong tonight did."

He added: "The manager was still positive in there. There's still a long way to go.

"We need to play a lot better than we did tonight, but we're more than capable of doing it.

"Hopefully we'll have a few players back. The onus is on us to attack Olympiacos and score some goals.

"We have a mountain to climb, but we know we're capable."

Aston Villa were stunned by Olympiacos as they suffered a 4-2 home defeat in the Europa Conference League.

On what the Villa faithful hoped would be a famous night at Villa Park, they instead saw their team dispatched by their Greek opponents in the first leg of their semi-final encounter.

Ayoub El Kaabi scored a hat-trick for the visitors, who were 2-0 up inside 30 minutes on Thursday.

Ollie Watkins and Moussa Diaby struck either side of the interval to restore parity, but El Kaabi sealed his hat-trick from the penalty spot before Santiago Hezze added further gloss with a sensational finish. To add to Villa's misery, Douglas Luiz then missed a penalty late on.

In the other semi-final tie, Fiorentina took a 3-2 aggregate lead against Club Brugge.

M'Bala Nzola was Fiorentina's hero in stoppage time, scoring in the 91st minute to nudge the Serie A team ahead.

Hans Vanaken had scored from a penalty following a VAR check for handball in the 17th minute, cancelling out Riccardo Sottil's early opener, though Fiorentina restored their lead through Andrea Belotti before half-time in a frantic first half.

Thiago equalised for Brugge, but it was ultimately not enough.

Rangers manager Michael Beale welcomed the “feedback” after some poor defending contributed to a 3-1 Ibrox friendly defeat against Olympiakos.

Beale started with Robby McCrorie in goal and an experienced back four of James Tavernier, Ben Davies, John Souttar and Borna Barisic.

He told Rangers TV: “The goals we have let in are poor and it’s good we are getting that feedback now. All three of the goals were really, really poor defending. It’s a whole team thing so we need to look at that.

“Some of our approach play and some of the attacking play was good. Listen, it’s really good feedback. We trained hard coming into the game so I knew we would be a bit heavy in the legs so that’s on me.

“The biggest thing in pre-season is to give yourself big challenges to prepare.

“We are not giving up big chances but we are conceding goals. But better now in pre-season when we can continue to work, than in two weeks’ time.”

The front six positions for Rangers were filled with 2023 signings – Nico Raskin, Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell in midfield with summer arrivals Sam Lammers, Cyriel Dessers and Abdallah Sima ahead of them.

Raskin hit the post from long range early on but Rangers trailed at half-time.

Tavernier levelled from the spot early in the second half and Lammers forced some decent stops but the Greek side eased to victory as Beale made nine second-half changes.

Olympiacos announced the termination of James Rodriguez's contract on Thursday after just eight months at the club.

The former Monaco, Real Madrid and Everton midfielder moved to Greece at the beginning of the season, but departs having not played for the club since mid-February due to injury.

A statement from Olympiacos read:" James will always be part of our club and a member of the 'red and white' family. We want to thank him for his service and we wish him every success in the future."

In his own message on social media, James said: "I would like to thank everyone for all the time that we have spent together.

"Although we are going our separate ways, I feel that I will always be a member and welcomed in the family of the great port Piraeus. I wish all the best to Olympiacos and every success in the future."

A breakout star from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, James is now on the hunt for a new club having struggled to find stability in recent years.

James has not spent more than a single season at any of his last three clubs – Olympiacos, Al-Rayyan and Everton – while a two-year loan stint with Bayern Munich from 2017-2019 saw the Bundesliga giants decline to make a permanent move.

He remains a regular at international level with Colombia, however, scoring in a 2-2 draw with South Korea last month and boasting 90 caps for his country.

Real Madrid and Brazil great Marcelo has left Olympiacos just five months after signing for the Greek Super League champions.

The left-back, a five-time Champions League winner, called an end to his glittering Madrid career in September as he joined Olympiacos on a free transfer.

Marcelo made just five appearances in the Greek top flight this term, failing to start in any of those, after signing a reported one-year deal with an option of an additional year extension.

The 34-year-old took to Instagram to confirm he had parted ways with Olympiacos on Saturday.

"I have lived unforgettable moments in Greece, in which I was warmly welcomed to a new home, not only for me, but also for my family," he wrote.

"Piraeus and the people have all my heart and this won't be my last time in this amazing country. I can only express gratitude for wearing the Olympiacos jersey.

"Even though the brief stay, the experience and the friends I made there will be forever marked in my life.

"Today I say goodbye but I'm leaving my affection and respect to the president, my team-mates, all the employees and fans of the club.

"I wish Olympiacos a successful future! Thank you, Olympiacos."

The Greek Super League side added: "The entire Olympiacos family would like to thank @MarceloM12 for his cooperation and presence in Olympiacos.

"The time he stayed with us was brief but enough to create everlasting bonds. He knows that in Greece, in Piraeus he will always have friends!"

Reports suggest retirement is not on the cards for Marcelo, who remains Madrid's most decorated player after the 58-cap Brazil international lifted 25 major trophies with the LaLiga giants.

Fluminense president Mario Bittencourt confirmed the club are keen on signing Thiago Silva and Marcelo at the end of their contracts.

Silva, 38, began his career at Fluminense, returning to the club in 2006 for a three-year spell before making his mark in European football with Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Full-back Marcelo's footballing roots also trace back to the Brazilian side, with a single year in the first team before a trophy-laden 15-years with Real Madrid that ended in 2022.

Both players are out of contract with their teams at the end of the season and Bittencourt confirmed the club will make a move if they do not renew with Chelsea and Olympiacos respectively.

"We are waiting for [Thiago Silva's] decision at Chelsea. We don't know yet if he will extend there or not," he told a press conference.

"Depending on this information, whether he extends or not, we will start discussions for him to come back to Fluminense.

"We have the will to bring [Marcelo] in. But he is in the same situation as Thiago Silva. He has a contract in Greece that goes until May.

"We are waiting to see the decision he will take there, if he will extend or not. There was a report that Al-Nassr, the same club as Cristiano [Ronaldo], were interested in him.

"We are following the situation of Marcelo and Thiago Silva to bring them back."

James Rodriguez has signed for Olympiacos after terminating his contract with Qatar Stars League club Al-Rayyan.

The Colombia international joined Al-Rayyan from Everton in September 2021, a little over a year after he had joined the Premier League side, with Rafael Benitez having deemed the playmaker surplus to requirements.

James made just 12 league appearances for Al-Rayyan, scoring four times, and on Thursday the club confirmed the mutual termination of the 31-year-old's contract, enabling him to sign for Greek giants Olympiacos on a free transfer.

Olympiacos teased the arrival of the attacker, who claimed LaLiga and Bundesliga titles with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively, with a shirt featuring the number 10, before officially confirming the signing later on Thursday.

James starred at the 2014 World Cup, winning the Golden Boot and earning a switch from Monaco to Madrid, but he will not be making a swift return to Qatar later this year, with Colombia having failed to qualify for the tournament.

With Olympiacos featuring in the Europa League, James will be in line to make his first appearance in a UEFA competition since October 2019, when he played in the Champions League for Madrid.

Across his appearances in the Champions League, Europa League and the Super Cup, James has scored six goals and provided 12 assists.

Marcelo has signed for Greek Super League champions Olympiacos after bringing down the curtain on his glittering Real Madrid career.

The left-back – a five-time European champion – was firmly behind Ferland Mendy in Madrid's pecking order last term, starting only seven games in all competitions as Los Blancos won LaLiga and the Champions League.

Although Marcelo was club captain, Karim Benzema usually skippered Carlo Ancelotti's team. Marcelo then departed when his contract expired at the end of the 2021-22 season, ending a 15-year stay with the Spanish giants.

Marcelo said upon leaving Madrid: "I won't retire, not now. I feel I can still play. Facing Real Madrid won't be a problem. I'm a big Madridista, but I'm also a big professional."

He was available as a free agent and was recently linked with Premier League side Leicester City.

However, the 34-year-old has ended up at Olympiacos, who described him as "a true football legend" when announcing the deal.

There is unlikely to be the opportunity to face Madrid this season, with Olympiacos having failed to qualify for the Champions League group stage, losing to Maccabi Haifa in the preliminary rounds.

Roma have completed the signing of Olympiacos midfielder Mady Camara on a season-long loan deal with the option to buy.

The Guinea international is the seventh arrival at the Stadio Olimpico during this transfer window, following in the footsteps of Nemanja Matic, Mile Svilar, Zeki Celik, Paulo Dybala, Georginio Wijnaldum and Andrea Belotti.

Camara, who will wear the number 20 for the Giallorossi, spent four seasons with Olympiacos, winning three league titles.

The 25-year-old was linked with a host of clubs across Europe in this window but is now looking forward to his new challenge with Roma.

"I am very happy to be here," Camara told the club's official website. "Roma represents a great opportunity for me.

"It will be a challenging season, between cups and the league, but I am here to give my contribution and help the team in every competition in which we participate.

"Seeing the Olimpico and the Giallorossi fans was magnificent; I can't wait to play for them."

Camara could make his Roma debut when the Giallorossi travel to Udinese in Serie A on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku's club future has been thrown into the spotlight after an explosive interview.

The Belgian striker revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea in August.

Lukaku was subsequently dropped by coach Thomas Tuchel for Sunday's 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU COULD MAKE STUNNING SWITCH TO SPURS

La Gazzetta Dello Sport claims that unsettled Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku could make a cross-city switch to Tottenham to re-unite with Antonio Conte.

Lukaku and Conte worked together at Inter where they won the Serie A title last term.

The striker revealed his frustrations at Chelsea over the weekend, with Tuchel offering no guarantees about his future.

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland will not leave Borussia Dortmund during the January transfer window, reports Fabrizio Romano. Haaland has not decided his next destination yet, despite rumours of a pre-agreement with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

- Ara claims Barcelona will offer Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United as part of a swap deal for want-away forward Anthony Martial.

- Tottenham and West Ham United  are both keen to sign Wolves' Adama Traore, claims the Telegraph. Wolves want £20million for the Spanish forward.

- Olympiakos' Guinea international midfielder Aguibou Camara is attracting interest from Milan and Liverpool, claims Calciomercato.

Emerging Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic has a long list of admirers.

The 21-year-old netted 21 Serie A goals last season.

Vlahovic scored a double in Fiorentina's 4-3 win over Milan last weekend too.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE STILL KEEN ON VLAHOVIC

Cashed-up Newcastle United will still pursue hot property forward Dusan Vlahovic despite Fiorentina's €80million (£67m) asking price according to Corriere Fiorentina.

The bottom-of-the-table Premier League club are determined to land the Serbian who has also attracted interest from Juventus.

Juventus want Vlahovic in January and are still front-runners to land the 21-year-old, who has already netted 12 goals this term.

 ROUND-UP

- Sky Germany reports that Borussia Dortmund are preparing a new contract offer for Erling Haaland to keep him at the club, amid interest from Real Madrid, BarcelonaChelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

- Barcelona are considering moves for either of Chelsea pair Timo Werner or Hakim Ziyech as an alternative to Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling claims ESPN.

- Liverpool, Leicester City and Newcastle are all monitoring Olympiacos' 20-year-old midfielder Aguibou Camara reports The Sun.

- Milan have entered the pursuit to sign Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette claims Calciomercato. Atletico MadridBarcelona and Newcastle are all interested.

Newcastle United look set to enter the transfer market in January following their change of ownership.

The Magpies are 19th in the Premier League, with no wins and three draws from seven games this term.

The Saudi-led ownership takeover at St James' Park was officially completed on Thursday.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE ENTER CHASE FOR ICARDI

Following their big-money buyout, Newcastle have entered the race to sign Argentine forward Mauro Icardi from Paris Saint-Germain, reports Calciomercato.

Tottenham and Juventus are reportedly already interested in the 28-year-old former Inter player, who joined PSG permanently in 2020 on a four-year deal after a loan spell.

The Telegraph claims Newcastle could spend up to £190m in January without breaking Financial Fair Play rules.

ROUND-UP

- Spanish newspaper Sport claims former Liverpool winger Philippe Coutinho could join Newcastle as Barcelona seek to offload the Brazilian in January.

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is Real Madrid's number one transfer target next year, claims Spanish newspaper ABC. Rudiger's contract is due to expire at the end of this season.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are open to a swap deal with Everton which would see Aaron Ramsey and Brazilian midfielder Allan exchange places.

Liverpool are ahead of Arsenal and Everton in the race to sign Olympiacos' Senegalese centre-back Pape Abou Cisse according to the Daily Mail.

Arsenal are considering a move for Zenit's Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun as they seek a replacement for Alexandre Lacazette, according to Onze Mondial.

- Cristiano Ronaldo wants former Juventus team-mate Federico Chiesa to join him at Manchester United, claims Calciomercato.

- The Sun reports that ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte would decline the chance to replace Steve Bruce as Newcastle boss.

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