Also included in Ian Hawkey's talking points ahead of this week's round of fixtures are Marseille's leaky defence and Branislav Ivanovic in line to reach his century
Sevilla seek more magic from Ben Yedder as outbound Ramsey racks up air miles with Arsenal: Europa League talking points
Wissam the Wizard
Wissam Ben Yedder on Wednesday boarded a plane bound for Russia, something he would have liked to have been doing last June, when he just failed to make the cut for France’s World Cup squad.
He was on the reserve list then, but has not vanished from the world champions radar. His electric goalscoring form in the last few weeks guarantee that.
Ben Yedder, 28, is Sevilla’s lucky charm, no more so than when he achieved his 15 minutes of global fame last March by coming on as a 72nd minute substitute against Manchester United at the last-16 stage of a stubbornly goalless tie in the Uefa Champions League.
He settled it in devastating fashion, scoring twice within seven minutes of taking the field at Old Trafford, to put Sevilla into the quarter-finals.
Ben Yedder’s 10 goals in European games last season gained him his first cap for France. Or at least for France’s 11-side Bleus. He had previously played for his country at futsal, the indoor form of the game, one chapter in his unusual journey to the elite of the sport as played in studded boots and on grass.
He bypassed the orthodox academy system, and when Sevilla signed him from Toulouse in 2016 they detected in him some of the quick thinking and nimble footwork required of the sportshall player.
He goes into Thursday night’s Europa League fixture at Krasnodar on a roll, with two goals in the 5-1 win over Standard Liege that put Sevilla, Europa League winners in 2014, 2015 and 2016, top of Group J, and four goals from his three starts so far in the Primera Liga.
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Last season’s runners-up in the competition, Olympique Marseille, have used up most of their credit already in this campaign, according to manager Rudi Garcia.
Defeat on Matchday 1 at home to Eintracht Frankfurt has left them bottom of a testing group, including Lazio, ahead of their trip to Apollon Limassol.
“We may now need to win more than one of our away games,” Garcia said.
A clean sheet would be a step in the right direction. Marseille have the second poorest defensive record in France’s Ligue 1 so far this season, and since the 2-1 loss to Eintracht have let in nine goals in their last three games.
They hope to have Adil Rami, the France international central defender, back from injury to plug some of the leaks, and boost morale after the weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Lille. “What worries me most is the attitude, the desire. We’re not showing the defiance we had last season,” said Dimitri Payet, the Marseille captain.
Ramsey’s long haul
Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal midfielder, may be approaching his last few months with the club, after more than 10 years in their colours. Talks over renewing a contract that expires next summer have apparently stalled, opening up the possibility of a move in January if Arsenal want a fee for his sale.
Might a strong Europa League run convince the parties to agree a deal? Debatable. Ramsey is understood to be chasing regular Champions League football in the future, and with Arsenal facing a stiff task to finish in the top four of the Premier League for the first time in three seasons, several likely suitors for the Wales international can offer that with greater certainty.
But if Ramsey is counting down his days with Arsenal, he is counting up thousands of air miles. The trip to Baku for the meeting with Qarabag - some 5,000 miles there and back - will be followed next month by the 3,000 mile round trip to Poltava, Ukraine to play Vorskla.
A milestone awaits in St Petersburg for one of the game’s enduring warriors. Branislav Ivanovic should make his 100th appearance in Uefa competition for Zenit against Slavia Prague.
It is more than 14 years since his first, an Intertoto Cup tie for Beograd of his native Serbia, and six and half years years since he soldiered his way into a Champions League final, with a backs-to-the-wall semi-final draw at Barcelona for Chelsea. He apparently only found out in a post-match interview that the yellow card he had picked up that night would deprive him from taking part in the victorious final against Bayern Munich.
There was some consolation a year later, when Ivanovic, armour-plated central defender, useful crosser from full-back and all-round 110-per-cent competitor, produced another of his trademarks to win the Europa League final, heading Chelsea into a 2-1 lead in injury time against Benfica.
Ivanovic, 35 in February, would enjoy nothing more than a reunion with Chelsea, where he won three Premier League titles in nine years, in the very late stages of this season’s competition.