Match-day four of the Europa League kicks off on Thursday, with 24 matches on the schedule.
European football’s second-tier competition might not have the flash and glamour of the Champions League. But this year’s edition has seen the bar raised significantly, with plenty of quality match-ups between some of the continent’s most popular clubs.
Here are five to watch on Thursday.
The Reds have garnered positive results in their travels to Moscow, which is where this match will be played due to Anji’s home ground being deemed unfit for European competition — Lokomotiv Stadium has been chosen to host all of the clubs matches. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers’ side has yet to be beaten away from Merseyside in the Europa League, winning all three of their fixtures. But their Dagestan opponents have yet to be breached, earning four clean sheets in four home matches–a ride that started in the second qualifying round in July. Liverpool sit atop of Group A with six points, with Anji trailing by two, tied in second spot.
Stewart Downing’s thunderous match-winner at Anfield two weeks prior made sure the Reds had the advantage going into this return fixture. The pearl (Anji) of Makhachkala, manager Guus Hiddink’s ambitious side has been funded by local billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov, whose vast wealth has lured Samuel Eto’o, Yuri Zhirkov, Christopher Samba and Lassana Diarra to the extremely volatile region of Dagestan. Even Anji’s first foreign international, Roberto Carlos, has recently become the club’s Sporting Director following his retirement.
The team continues to live and train in Moscow, commuting over two hours for domestic matches — Makhachkala is riddled with armed violence. Kerimov has pledged hundreds of millions for a massive redevelopment of the area’s infrastructure. For the time being, Liverpool has dodged a bullet by being able to bypass the hostile city.
Keep an eye on Jonjo Shelvey, as the Reds midfielder has scored three goals in the tournament — tied for the lead — and is slowly becoming a regular on the team sheet under Rodgers, using the Europa League as his launch pad.
This is a perfect tale of two clubs going in the opposite direction. Monchengladbach are struggling to replicate last season’s top four finish, currently placed 13th in the Bundesliga table, and manager Lucien Favre’s side has been pre-dominantly inconsistent.
The same cannot be said for their opponents. Marseille underwent a massive transformation under new manager Elie Baup, and are tied at the top of Ligue 1 with big-spending PSG.
Despite losing 2-0 in Monchengladbacha few weeks ago, L’OM are a tough nut to crack at the Stade Velodrome, where they have yet to taste defeat all season. The loss at Borussia Park was their first in seven European matches. Filip Daems’ first half penalty was the decider, as the match was relatively even and lacked an offensive tone.
Neither team can afford to lose, as they are tied in Group C with four points, and the end result has all the signs of another stalemate. However, Monchengladbach holds a perfect record against French opposition away from home.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has spoken highly of his respect of the Europa League, and desire to make a decent run in the competition. The Geordies top Group D with seven points, being only one of two teams to have recorded a clean sheet in all their group matches. Gabriel Obertan was the hero at St. James Park two weeks ago, netting the winner against Brugge through a stellar set-up by Sammy Ameobi.
Newcastle were clearly the aggressors, firmly in control over 90 minutes, but Brugge goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic produced a handful of high quality saves to give his team the chance to earn a result. The Belgian club recently sacked their manager Georges Leekens following a loss on Sunday, culminating a run of four straight domestic defeats. Reserve team boss Philippe Clement has taken over temporary control.
The match could not come at a worse time for the hosts, and with Newcastle owning a perfect record versus Belgian opposition — seven wins from seven — the fans inside the Jan Breydel Stadium might be in for more disappointment.
Two weeks ago, an own goal by Giourkas Seitaridis gave the visitors the lead, but the hosts equalised through substitute Jose Toche to earn a split of the points. As the venue switches to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, security will be extra tight after fans clashed in Athens prior to previous encounter.
Lazio lead the group with five points, with their opponents rooted at the bottom with one point. The Greek side are mired in a dreadful run of form, sixth in their domestic table, with the prospect of being without European football next season slowly becoming ever more certain.
Past results in Italy have not been flattering, winning two out of 10 matches. Panathinaikos have also looked weak away from Athens, conceding six goals without reply in two matches played in this current campaign.
Tottenham have surprisingly underachieved in the competition thus far. Three points from three matches, all draws, each performance was sub-par. Anything but a victory at White Hart Lane would put a massive dent in their chances of making it out of the group.
Maribor miraculously earned a well-deserved draw at home last time out, with Gylfi Sigurdsson sparing Tottenham a humiliating defeat by equalizing with two thirds of the match played.
Andre Villas-Boas must rally his troops following a disappointing home defeat to Wigan on the weekend. The odds are in Spurs’ favour, as English clubs have never lost to Slovenian opposition — four wins out of six.
Jermain Defoe has scored twice record against Slovenia with England, and if given the opportunity, the striker could be of good use to Villas-Boas. Tottenham should coast through 90 minutes and comfortably collect all three points.