Europa League: Thursday's top performers

Sports Mole picks out three of the Europa League's top performers from the fourth round of games in the group stage.

The Europa League group stage is now more than half-way through, which means that the respective groups are beginning to take shape. Many sides desperately need to start winning to have a hope of qualifying, while others have a foot or more in the next round.

Here, Sports Mole takes a look at three of the players who had impressive games for their team on matchday four.

1. Barak Itzhaki - Maccabi Tel Aviv 4-2 Eintracht Frankfurt

One of the most exciting games of the evening was, perhaps surprisingly, Maccabi Tel Aviv against Eintracht Frankfurt. In what was a crucial game for the hosts in order for them to take control of second spot, their attack - particularly in the first half - excelled.

At the heart of everything good that his side did was Barak Itzhaki. He was part of the high pressing game that coach Paulo Sousa requested his team to play and with the ball he was very rarely wasteful. Itzhaki constantly looked to play the ball forward and capped his performance with two goals of differing quality.

His first came from a powerful downward header from about 12 yards out and his second showed every inch of talent that he has. Eran Zahavi held up the ball well and laid off to Itzhaki, who clipped it over Kevin Trapp. It was a performance worthy of three points anywhere.

2. Erik Lamela - Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Sheriff Tiraspol

Erik Lamela of Spurs is closed down by Luvannor Henrique and Kobi Moyal of FC Sheriff during the UEFA Europa League Group K match on November 7, 2013© Getty Images

The big summer signing from Roma has finally arrived in a Tottenham shirt. Before Thursday night Lamela had made five Premier League appearances without taking too many plaudits, but he has now shown what to expect from him with a match-winning performance against Sheriff.

Of course, the Moldovan outfit are hardly world beaters and now look certain to be eliminated in the first round, but the old adage goes that a team can only beat what is put in front of them. Without Lamela, Spurs may well have struggled. The game was certainly heading towards a 0-0 draw if the first half had any say on the outcome.

Sheriff were set up with two banks of four and were proving very difficult to break down. Tottenham's passing game was unable to unlock it. The key, it turned out, was Lamela. The Argentine was already his side's biggest threat before the 60th minute, which was when he played a one-two with Christian Eriksen and rifled a low shot in at the near post. The goal inspired him to start to take on Djibril Paye and he was rewarded by winning a penalty, which Jermain Defoe converted. That is more like it from the 21-year-old.

3. Takashi Inui - Estoril Praia 0-0 Freiburg

The award for the most dreary match of the night could well go to this game, but the result had nothing to do with Takashi Inui. The Japanese player, along with Carlitos for Praia, was the best player on the pitch and did absolutely everything he could to claim the win for his side. However, barring two good results against the stronger teams in the group, Christian Streich's men still look like going out.

German Eintracht Frankfurt's midfielder Takashi Inui dribbles past Israeli Maccabi Tel Avivs midfielder Omri Altman during their UEFA Europa League Group F qualifying football match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Eintracht Frankfurt at the Bloomfield Stadiu© Getty Images

The Japanese was deployed on the left but found himself drifting to the middle and even the right as he tried to get his team into the game. The visitors had spells of possession but were just unable to create the one big chance needed. Inui often found that his runs after tracking back and winning the ball led to nothing as his teammates were not well placed.

Inui's performance deserved better and perhaps all that it would have required was a similar level of effort from one or two teammates and Freiburg might still have a decent chance of qualifying.

Erik Lamela of Spurs is closed down by Luvannor Henrique and Kobi Moyal of FC Sheriff during the UEFA Europa League Group K match on November 7, 2013
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Result: Spurs edge past Sheriff Tiraspol
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