Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel confessed he is at a loss to explain the club's poor defensive record.

The Foxes came from behind to claim a point against Spartak Moscow in Europa League Group C on Thursday after Daniel Amartey cancelled out Victor Moses' opener.

Leicester had a chance to secure victory when Moses gave away a penalty but substitute Jamie Vardy saw his spot-kick saved.

Moses' goal meant Brendan Rodgers' side have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last nine games in all competitions, and have only managed one in their last 15.

Schmeichel told BT Sport: "We are conceding too many goals at the moment but had enough chances to win it.

"Why are we conceding? If I knew it wouldn't be happening. It is something we are working on every single day but is not working too well at the minute.

"The game was there to be won. We dominated most of the game and they had a couple of chances and scored. We are conceding too many goals at the moment but had enough chances to win it.

"When you are not getting the luck you have to dig in and work harder. We have to look at ourselves, we cannot blame anyone else and have a massive Premier League game coming up against Leeds United."

Leicester have won just one of their last six games in the Europa League (drawn three, lost two), while failing to keep a clean sheet in each of the last five.

They were poor in front of goal against the Russian side, with just three of their 13 attempts on target despite enjoying 76.9 per cent of possession.

Group C is wide open, though, with third-placed Leicester a point behind second-placed Legia Warsaw and two behind leaders Napoli.

The Foxes play both sides in their remaining two fixtures which means their fate is in their own hands.

Kelechi Iheanacho acknowledged Leicester's forward players were equally culpable as their defensive colleagues for the draw with Spartak and they must improve in front of goal to qualify for the knockout phase.

"It was a frustrating game, we conceded a sloppy goal but got back into the game," added the Foxes striker.

"We were on them for the last 10 minutes, tried every means to score but we have to focus on the next two games now. Hopefully we will win and go through.

"The first half we kept the ball well and moved it quickly, in the second half we came out well but it was one of those games. We have to do a bit more.

"We missed a couple, we need to do more in the offensive side. It didn't come tonight.

"Everyone is down at the moment, we need to now focus on the next games. The Premier League first then look to progress in the Europa League."

Ciro Immobile became the all-time leading goalscorer in Lazio's history after finding the net in their 2-2 draw with Marseille on Thursday. 

Italy international Immobile overtook Silvio Piola by netting his 160th goal in all competitions for the club in the second half of the Europa League clash at the Stade Velodrome. 

The striker pounced on an error from William Saliba and curled a fine finish beyond Pau Lopez in the 49th minute, though Dimitri Payet's late intervention ensured it was not the winner. 

Immobile joined Lazio in 2016 and reached the milestone in his 233rd appearance for the club, with the majority of his goals being scored with his right foot (125). 

More than a quarter (44) have come from the penalty spot, while he has only found the back of the net from outside the box eight times.

Immobile's favourite opponent in a Lazio shirt has been Sampdoria, against whom he has scored 10 times in nine games. He has also hit nine against Cagliari, Genoa and SPAL, with his tally against the latter coming from just six games. 

Kyogo Furuhashi, Jota and Liel Abada were on target for Celtic as they beat Ferencvaros 3-2 in Hungary on Thursday to boost their hopes of making the Europa League knockout stages.

Furuhashi opened the scoring in an entertaining first half, finding the bottom-left corner inside the first three minutes, but a Josip Juranov own goal – deflected in from Oleksandr Zubkov's effort – saw Ferencvaros level the scores.

Jota lashed a terrific strike in off the post from long distance to restore the Bhoys' advantage later in the first half, and Abada added a third on the hour mark after some neat build-up play from the visitors before Myrto Uzuni pulled one back for Ferencvaros late on.

The result sees Ferencvaros eliminated from the group as their wait for a point goes on, while Celtic close the gap to second place to just one point.

Ange Postecoglou's men quickly went ahead, Furuhashi feinting on his right foot and slotting inside the near post with his left after Abada pounced on a loose ball high up the field.

The visitors' lead lasted just eight minutes as Ferencvaros equalised with the help of a wicked deflection off Juranovic that looped Zubkov's low shot over a stranded Joe Hart and in after Celtic gave the ball away cheaply.

Celtic reclaimed their advantage in the 23rd minute of an end-to-end first half as Jota finished off an incisive counter-attack with a superb strike, cutting in from the left to curl in off the near post from the edge of the box.

The crossbar was rattled at either end within five minutes of the restart as Tokmac Nguen struck a ferocious effort from the edge of the box that cannoned off the woodwork before Anthony Ralston headed against the frame of the goal from David Turnbull's cross.

In the 59th minute, Furuhashi thought he had made it 3-1 but saw the ball hacked off the line after he had dinked over Adam Bogdan.

Celtic did grab a third goal just a minute later, though, with Abada rifling into the bottom-left corner from a tight angle to finish off a slick move.

Uzuni curled a lovely strike from long range into the bottom-right corner in the 86th minute to set up a nervy finish, but the hosts were unable to complete the comeback and earn a draw.

What does it mean? Celtic close the gap

Having started the evening four points behind both Bayer Leverkusen and Real Betis, Celtic are now just one point off the latter after Betis' 4-0 defeat in Germany.

The result means that Celtic are guaranteed more European football, whether that be in the Europa League or the Europa Conference League, with Ferencvaros eliminated from contention with no points after four games.

Bhoys end Europa League away losing run

Before this outing, Celtic had lost each of their last three away games in the Europa League, conceding exactly four goals in each match.

Postecoglou's charges put in a strong showing on the road on this occasion, however, making sure they avoided an unwanted record of four straight away defeats in the competition.

Ferencvaros' wait for a European win goes on

Ferencvaros have now lost each of their last seven matches in European competition. This is their longest ever sequence of defeats in their history in Europe.

Additionally, the Hungarian champions have played five home matches in the Europa League to date and are still waiting for their first such victory (D2 L3).

What's next?

Ferencvaros travel to Spain to face Real Betis in their next Europa League game on November 25, while Celtic are in Germany to play Bayer Leverkusen on the same day.

Jamie Vardy missed a second-half penalty as Leicester City could only draw 1-1 with Spartak Moscow on Thursday to leave Europa League Group C wide open.

Victor Moses put Spartak ahead early in the second half when he escaped the attentions of Leicester's defence and planted a firm header low into the corner of the net.

The Foxes equalised shortly afterwards when Daniel Amartey headed in from a corner, before Moses gave away a penalty when he hauled down Ademola Lookman.

Substitute Vardy stepped up to take the spot-kick, but Spartak goalkeeper Alexander Selikhov guessed correctly and saved well.

Leicester's positive intent almost brought an early opener as Ayoze Perez headed wide from a good position, before Selikhov saved well from Kelechi Iheanacho.

Spartak were content to sit deep, giving Boubakary Soumare the time to shoot from distance as he struck the underside of the bar with a spectacular effort.

Despite enjoying 73.7 per cent of possession in the first half, that was as close as the Foxes went before the interval and Spartak took the lead six minutes into the second half – Mikhail Ignatov's right-wing cross allowing the unmarked Moses to guide a header beyond Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester levelled just before the hour when Perez flicked on Ryan Bertrand's in-swinging corner and Amartey outmuscled Roman Zobnin to head in.

Shortly after replacing Patson Daka, Vardy was presented with a chance from the penalty spot with 14 minutes left after Moses felled Lookman, but Selikhov dived low to his left to save superbly.

Leicester had a final chance through Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall's saved header, with Iheanacho unable to pounce on the rebound.

West Ham boss David Moyes was denied a win in his 1000th game in management as Tomas Soucek's late own goal gifted Genk a 2-2 Europa League draw.

The Hammers thought they had won it when two second-half goals from Said Benrahma cancelled out Joseph Paintsil's early opener, only for Soucek to find the back of his own net in the 87th minute.

The Premier League side can qualify for the knockout stages with two games to spare if either Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna win the other Group H match later on Thursday.

Genk put an end to their losing streak at home, having lost their previous four home matches in all European competition – their longest ever such run in Europe.

John van den Brom's team took the lead inside four minutes when an incisive ball from Junya Ito found Paintsil, whose shot went in off the post after Alphonse Areola could only get a hand to it.

They never doubled their lead soon after as Areola was forced to save a Paul Onuachu header, before Ito sliced horribly wide after Paintsil pulled the ball back to him on a counter-attack.

Michael Antonio thought he had equalised a minute before half-time when he hit a shot under Genk goalkeeper Maarten Vandevoordt, only to see the ball cleared off the line by Patrik Hrosovsky.

West Ham started the second half brightly and were level after 59 minutes when Manuel Lanzini, Vladimir Coufal and Benrahma combined well for the former Brentford man to fire in.

Benrahma then got in down the left and slammed a shot past Vandevoordt again with just eight minutes to go, but a flick from Soucek from a dangerous cross looped over Areola and into the far corner to deny the Hammers all three points.

 

What does it mean? Hammers made to wait

There was to be no victory for Moyes in his landmark game, but the Hammers are still on the cusp of qualification for the knockout stage after four games.

They can be relatively pleased with going to a strong Genk side and getting a point, which was only West Ham’s second trip to Belgium in all European competition after a 1-0 win over KAA Gent back in September 1964 in the Cup Winners’ Cup first round, with Ron Boyce scoring the winner.

Where has this Genk been?

After an impressive 1-0 win at Rapid Vienna, Genk’s Europa League campaign stumbled badly with back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Dinamo Zagreb and West Ham.

The Belgians were a match for their English opponents here, though, having 14 shots with five on target, and very nearly equal possession (49.6 per cent). Play like this in their final two games and Genk will fancy their chances of still making it through.

Waste Ham

Even if a draw is not the end of the world, Moyes will still feel a sense of frustration after seeing his side waste numerous chances to win the game.

West Ham had 15 shots in the game, with 13 of those being taken from inside the penalty area and seven hitting the target, but only finding the net twice.

What’s next?

West Ham host Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday, while Genk are also at home on Sunday as they face Cercle Brugge in the Belgian First Division A.

West Ham boss David Moyes was denied a win in his 1000th game in management as Tomas Soucek's late own goal gifted Genk a 2-2 Europa League draw.

The Hammers thought they had won it when two second-half goals from Said Benrahma cancelled out Joseph Paintsil's early opener, only for Soucek to find the back of his own net in the 87th minute.

The Premier League side can qualify for the knockout stages with two games to spare if either Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna win the other Group H match later on Thursday.

Genk put an end to their losing streak at home, having lost their previous four home matches in all European competition – their longest ever such run in Europe.

John van den Brom's team took the lead inside four minutes when an incisive ball from Junya Ito found Paintsil, whose shot went in off the post after Alphonse Areola could only get a hand to it.

They never doubled their lead soon after as Areola was forced to save a Paul Onuachu header, before Ito sliced horribly wide after Paintsil pulled the ball back to him on a counter-attack.

Michael Antonio thought he had equalised a minute before half-time when he hit a shot under Genk goalkeeper Maarten Vandevoordt, only to see the ball cleared off the line by Patrik Hrosovsky.

West Ham started the second half brightly and were level after 59 minutes when Manuel Lanzini, Vladimir Coufal and Benrahma combined well for the former Brentford man to fire in.

Benrahma then got in down the left and slammed a shot past Vandevoordt again with just eight minutes to go, but a flick from Soucek from a dangerous cross looped over Areola and into the far corner to deny the Hammers all three points.

Rangers substitute Ianis Hagi spared Leon Balogun's blushes after the defender's own goal, salvaging a 1-1 draw for Rangers against Brondby in Denmark on Thursday.

The visitors spurned a number of chances in the first half and gave Brondby their first goal in the Europa League this season as Balogun headed into his own net just before the break.

Rangers struggled to find their rhythm in the early stages of the second period, but Steven Gerrard's positive changes paid dividends as Hagi raced in behind to lash home an equaliser in the 77th minute.

The result leaves the defending Scottish champions level on points with second-placed Sparta Prague, who were beaten 3-0 by Lyon, while Brondby remain bottom of Group A.

Rangers started strongly and looked threatening in the first 10 minutes, with Alfredo Morelos seeing a header ruled out and then firing over after good work in the box before Fashion Sakala fizzed a low shot just wide.

Morelos came close again with a long-range effort before Joe Aribo headed onto the roof of the net, but it was the hosts who took the lead on the stroke of half-time as Josip Radosevic flicked a corner on and Balogun inadvertently nodded past Allan McGregor.

The visitors pushed for an equaliser and threw men forward as Gerrard made several second-half changes. Balogun attempted to make amends for his earlier mistake with a well-struck shot on the bounce and Glen Kamara blasted at the near post from distance, but both were denied.

However, Hagi, who was introduced 10 minutes into the second half, latched onto a pass from fellow substitute Ryan Kent and thumped a low drive into the bottom-left corner to keep Rangers' qualification hopes alive.

West Ham manager David Moyes is refusing to get carried away with his side's perfect start to the Europa League and insists his goal remains qualifying for the knockout stages.

The Hammers made it three wins from three games in Group H after defeating Belgian club Genk 3-0 at home on Thursday, following victories over Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna.

West Ham are only the second English side to win each of their first three group games in a single Europa League campaign without conceding a goal, alongside Tottenham in 2013-14.

The last team from any nation to achieve this was Sevilla who eventually won the competition in 2019-20 but Moyes would not be drawn on any comparisons.

"I'm keeping relatively calm because we've got to go to Genk away and Vienna away," Moyes during his post-game news conference. "I'm not going to take anything for granted.

"I said I want to be in Europe after Christmas. That's my plan for this year. We need another couple of points to qualify, not to win the group but if we can get that it would be a great start.

"The players have done a brilliant job. They really have. We've not won any of them easily. They've all been tough. The games have been close, even though we've been the better team in all three of the games. We've got to keep working to get those extra points to make sure we qualify."

West Ham's first two goals against Genk came from set pieces, with Craig Dawson and Issa Diop heading home from Aaron Cresswell's free-kicks.

Cresswell has assisted eight goals from dead-ball situations in all competitions since the start of the season, more than any other Premier League player.

Dawson has netted five goals in all club competitions this calendar year, which is equal best for any Premier League defender along with Manchester City's John Stones.

Angelo Ogbonna nodded in the winner from a Jarrod Bowen set-piece in Sunday's Premier League win over Everton too.

"It may be more effective in European football," Moyes said when asked about his side's set-piece threat. "The Premier League has got a lot of strong defences, and attackers who can defend set-pieces.

"Up until Everton, I’m not sure we had scored this season from a set-piece, so it is not as if we have been doing it every game but thankfully we got the winning goal at Everton and tonight as well.

"Craig Dawson is excellent at it, Issa Diop gets a goal tonight from it as well. Our centre-halves are the players on top scoring goals at the moment so I am happy with that and long may that continue."

Steven Gerrard says Rangers were close to perfect as they claimed an important victory over Brondby in the Europa League.

First-half goals from Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe sealed a 2-0 win at Ibrox – and the hosts' first points of this season's competition.

That helped Gerrard's team move off the bottom of Group A at the halfway stage, while closing the gap on second-placed Sparta Prague to just a single point.

The Rangers boss admitted the pressure was on his side, who began their campaign with defeats against Sparta and runaway leaders Lyon.

But he was ultimately delighted with the way his players rose to the occasion on Thursday.

"I thought it was a strong home performance in Europe," Gerrard told BT Sport.

"We've kick-started our Europa League campaign. The first two results haven't been good enough, which put a lot of pressure on us tonight.

"But we've got to go and replicate this performance and result [away at Brondby] in a couple of weeks' time.

"I thought the fans were magnificent. The game plan we set out to do, the players have delivered.

"It's really close to the performance we're looking for. 

"We've played well for halves and 60 minutes, but tonight was really close to a perfect 90-minute performance."

Gerrard also hailed the display of Joe Aribo, who provided a constant threat to the reigning Danish Superliga champions with his pace and power.

No Rangers player was involved in more duels (15) than the winger, who also completed 58 of his 62 passes and only James Tavernier (111) among the hosts' team bettered his tally of 93 touches.

The 25-year-old has recently been linked with a move away from Ibrox, with Gerrard admitting it will be difficult to retain his services should he continue to perform to a high level. 

"He's a great kid; he wants to learn and he wants to grow," the Rangers boss added.

"What I've said to Joe is: 'you're a much better player when you play angry in a nice way. You're a big strong lad; go and put yourself about' and when he does, he's a joy to watch.

"I thought his first 45-minute performance was outstanding. That's probably the reason why he tired a little bit, but he's played a lot and he's been away on international duty [with Nigeria]. 

"But if he can find that performance consistently over 90 minutes, we'll be lucky to keep hold of him."

Rangers secured their first win of this season's Europa League as they enjoyed a 2-0 victory over Brondby at Ibrox.

First-half goals from Leon Balogun and Kemar Roofe were enough to give Steven Gerrard's side the points and move them off the bottom of Group A.

Balogun opened his account for the club with a thumping 18th-minute header from James Tavernier's corner.

Roofe put the game beyond the reigning Danish Superliga champions on the half-hour mark with his 25th goal in 49 appearances.

Both sides were searching for their first goals in Group A, having drawn blanks in their opening two fixtures.

Rangers broke their duck early on – and so did Balogun, with the centre-half netting his maiden goal for the club in his 40th appearance.

The visitors spurned a great opportunity to equalise when Andrija Pavlovic fired over from close range, and they were made to pay as the hosts doubled their lead through Roofe's tap-in after half an hour.

Reacting quickest after Alfredo Morelos' header was saved, the former Leeds United striker was initially denied by the offside flag, but that decision was correctly overturned following a consultation with VAR.

Brondby squandered another great chance within seconds of the second half beginning when Uhre shot wide after Borna Barisic's loose pass inadvertently sent him clear on goal.

That was the closest the visitors came to threatening a comeback and inflicting a fourth defeat in five home European matches for Rangers.

Scott Arfield and Fashion Sakala went close to adding a third later on for Gerrard's team, who saw out victory and claimed a hugely important three points.

West Ham are making light work of Europa League Group H as they made it three wins from as many matches with Thursday's 3-0 defeat of Genk.

The Belgians travelled to London having lost four of their previous five matches across all competitions and West Ham piled on the misery to go six points clear at the top of the group.

Genk looked bright during the early exchanges but West Ham grew into the occasion and went ahead on the stroke of half-time, Craig Dawson's looping header finding the net.

West Ham put the game beyond Genk with a quickfire double just before the hour, Issa Diop and then Jarrod Bowen scoring 72 seconds apart to leave David Moyes' men on the brink of qualification for the knockout phase.

West Ham briefly appeared to have fallen behind early on as Theo Bongonda's diving header found the net, but the hosts were let off the hook as Junya Ito strayed offside in the build-up.

Maarten Vandevoordt was alert to prevent Jhon Lucumi putting into his own goal from an Aaron Cresswell cross just before half-time, though the Hammers did get the breakthrough from the resulting corner.

Dawson beat two markers in the air to meet Cresswell's delivery and Bryan Heynen could not prevent the header finding the top-left corner.

Another Cresswell set-piece brought West Ham's second goal, Diop seeing his header go in off the crossbar in the 57th minute.

A little more than a minute later, the Premier League side wrapped up the win as Manuel Lanzini found Bowen, the winger ran at the heart of the Genk defence and his shot squirmed past Vandevoordt.

What does it mean? Hammers a cut above

Genk certainly had their moments here, with Paul Onuachu threatening in the first half, Ito generally looking lively and that early disallowed goal, but West Ham were clinical and far more authoritative in the final third.

It will take something remarkable from here to deny West Ham top spot in Group H, even if only one of their next three Europa League games is at home.

They are making light work of a group that could have been problematic.

Cresswell? More like cross well…

West Ham left-back Cresswell was really bright here. His deliveries were a regular source of danger and two of them led to goals. Of course, praise should be reserved for Diop and Dawson for making the most of those crosses, but Cresswell put them into the right areas and you cannot ask for much more than that.

Johnson fades into the background

To say he played the full game, had the third-most touches (84) of anyone on the pitch, Ben Johnson did not offer a huge amount. He did not manage to play any key passes, and it was not as if he worked tirelessly off the ball either, as he was only involved in four duels in his whole outing.

What's next?

These two meet again on the next Europa League matchday, as West Ham travel to Belgium on November 4.

Leicester City came back from two goals down to beat Spartak Moscow 4-3 in Russia, with Patson Daka incredibly scoring all four goals in a Europa League classic.

The hosts took the lead through Alexander Sobolev's deflected opener, with Jordan Larsson finishing calmly in the 44th minute to double their advantage.

Daka scored his first almost immediately after, however, and then grabbed a second just after the break before tucking home the crucial third goal in the 54th minute to complete a nine-minute treble.

The Zambian striker was not done there, however, lashing in his fourth with 12 minutes of normal time remaining - a necessary goal for the Foxes as Sobolev set up a nervy finish with an 86th-minute strike.

 

Celtic finally got some points on the board in the Europa League as Kyogo Furuhashi's sublime second-half goal sent them on their way to a 2-0 win over Ferencvaros.

Ange Postecoglou's men lost their first two matches to Real Betis and Bayer Leverkusen, conceding four in each, but their slim qualification hopes at least received a boost with Tuesday's victory.

Celtic were the dominant force for much of the game, though Ferencvaros certainly had their fair share of chances, with the hosts let off the hook more than once.

Stunning play from Jota and excellent work by Kyogo brough the breakthrough just before the hour, and although Callum McGregor failed to put the game beyond Ferencvaros from the spot, David Turnbull wrapped it up late on with a scrappy effort.

Ferencvaros inexplicably failed to take an early lead when Ryan Mmaee latched on to a right-wing cross but somehow put his effort over from a few yards out.

Soon after, Jota forced two necessary saves from Denes Dibusz.

The first struck the goalkeeper's leg after Jota was fed into the left side of the box, before Dibusz theatrically tipped the Portuguese midfielder's curling effort over.

Celtic were well worth the lead when they eventually broke the deadlock, Jota unsurprisingly key.

The on-loan Benfica talent carried the ball out from the left-back area and played a gorgeous lofted throughball into the path of Kyogo, whose sumptuous first touch set up a composed finish from the edge of the box.

McGregor should have made it 2-0 five minutes later, with Dibusz palming away his spot-kick after Henry Wingo fouled Adam Montgomery.

But Celtic did get another goal nine minutes from time, Turnbull finishing from close range at the second time of asking after fluffing his first shot.

"If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club," Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.

Bayer Leverkusen had money to splash after Chelsea paid a club-record fee to prise German star Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21. His absence was supposed to leave a glaring hole in North Rhine-Westphalia and prompt a frantic search in the transfer market.

But sporting director Rolfes and Leverkusen had other ideas. Rather than use the money recouped in the blockbuster Havertz transfer, Die Werkself opted to look in their own backyard for a replacement – 18-year-old teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

Leverkusen's faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they're being rewarded once again by the club's latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe's elite queue for his signature.

At home in the number 10 role behind a striker or even as a deep-lying playmaker, Wirtz can do it all on the pitch – as next opponents Bayern Munich may find out on Sunday.

Leverkusen prised Wirtz from Cologne in 2020. Dubbed "the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years" by local newspaper Kolner Express, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Liverpool were all circling after Wirtz captained boyhood team Cologne to Under-17 German Championship glory in 2019, but Leverkusen eventually won the race.

Rolfes had first watched Wirtz at the age of 13. He was immediately mesmerised by the Brauweiler-born sensation, who has firmly established himself in the Leverkusen XI, quickly becoming the new face of Die Werkself.

 

From his junior days, Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield while churning out goalscoring chances with his devastating awareness. Not to mention his defence-splitting passing ability. Five years on and nothing has changed on the international stage.

"Extraordinary player," Rolfes told Stats Perform prior to the international break, after which Leverkusen now prepare to face champions Bayern in a top-of-the-table Bundesliga clash. "I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development. I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That's the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style."

When a player breaks a record held by Havertz at Leverkusen, it is a sign to sit up and take notice.

Wirtz was swiftly thrust into the first team, becoming Leverkusen's youngest-ever debutant at the age of 17 years and 16 days, eclipsing Havertz's record, in last season's 4-1 rout of Werder Bremen in 2019-20. After a handful of appearances in the coronavirus-hit campaign, Wirtz played 29 Bundesliga games, which yielded five goals and as many assists in the post-Havertz era in 2020-21. In February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in the league's history to score five goals before celebrating his 18th birthday.

So, when it comes to comparing Wirtz to Havertz through their first 42 Bundesliga appearances with Leverkusen, how do they stack up against each other?

Wirtz has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far. That's quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.

Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz's 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz's 58 per 90.

"I wouldn't say they're similar. They're for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers," Rolfes said. "I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.

"With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together."

With so much attention from a very young age, it is easy for some players to get swept up amid the hype and interest. Not Wirtz.

Wirtz has continued to shatter records and dazzle in the Bundesliga. Against Mainz on matchday six of this season, the Germany international became the youngest player to score 10 goals in Germany’s top-flight, doing so 208 days younger than Lukas Podolski (18 years, 353 days for Cologne in 2004).

No player in the Bundesliga this season has more assists than Wirtz (five) through seven rounds.

With four league goals in just six appearances, he is already only one goal shy of matching last season's haul, despite an expected goals (xG) goal value of 1.0 – no other player has such a large difference between his goals and expected goals.

His nine goal involvements in this season's Bundesliga are only surpassed by Dortmund star Erling Haaland (10), while Wirtz has the best shot conversion rate (36.4 per cent) among all players with at least three goals in 2021-22.

As Wirtz goes from prospect to genuine star, it all comes down to his mindset.

"The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they're able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game," said Rolfes.

"In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there's interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it's normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it's quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players."

In all competitions in 2021-22, Wirtz (11) is the only player in Europe's big-five leagues 18 or younger to be involved in seven or more goals, having already found the back of the net twice in the Europa League.

 

Wirtz has been involved in a goal across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – at least up until the international break, it was the best rate of all players in Europe's top five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).

"In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality. Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality," former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said. "Compared to the youth where they are doing everything."

It's a frightening thought when you remember Wirtz only celebrated his 18th birthday in May and consider how much growth there is to come from Leverkusen’s prized asset.

Despite being so young, Wirtz is already important in Leverkusen's attacking production – he's been involved in 26 open-play attacking sequences in the Bundesliga this season, with only two players at the club involved in more. Of those 26, 12 have come as the creator of the chance, which is more than any Leverkusen team-mate.

"He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game," added Rolfes. "Doesn't matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.

"Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I'm totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop. If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it's a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we've been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career."

UEFA will not open a disciplinary case against Sparta Prague after finding insufficient evidence of discriminatory behaviour in their Europa League match with Rangers.

The game, won 1-0 by the Scottish champions, was originally due to be played behind closed doors following the racist abuse of Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni in August but around 10,000 school children and accompanying adults were allowed to attend.

The contest was marred by the booing of Rangers' black players, with Glen Kamara seemingly subjected to particularly vocal taunts.

Last March, UEFA ruled Kamara had been the victim of a racist slur from Ondrej Kudela in Rangers' fixture against Sparta's Czech rivals Slavia Prague.

However, following an investigation by a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector, European football's governing body said no further action would be taken.

A statement confirmed: "In accordance with Article 31(4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector was appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation regarding potential discriminatory incidents which allegedly occurred during the 2021-22 UEFA Europa League group stage match between AC Sparta Prague and Rangers FC played on September 30, 2021.
 
"The investigation has now concluded that there was insufficient evidence of racism or discriminatory conduct at the match to warrant the opening of disciplinary proceedings against AC Sparta Prague."

After the game, Sparta issued a statement to insist any allegations of racism were unfounded.

"It is absolutely unbelievable that after a match we have to watch innocent children being attacked and face unfounded accusations of racism," the club said. 

"You are describing the behaviour of children incorrectly, arrogating to yourself the right to judge the expression of emotions of six-year-old children who have no idea what racism is. It's an impertinence."

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