Matchday 2: UEFA Europa Conference League marches on

Fiorentina could not make the most of their chances in their first Europa Conference League game. They will need to step up their game this time around. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

West Ham, Villarreal overcome struggles, Fiorentina fail to finish chances

The action never seems to end in Europa Conference League as the second week of matches goes on this Thursday. After last week’s opening set of fixtures – which only featured six winners – the games roll on and the intensity increases.

Before taking a look at this week’s games, here is a review of what happened the Thursday prior as the tournament got underway for its second installment.

The thrill of the round came at the Ciutat de Valencia, as Villarreal won a back-and-forth match with Lech Poznan 4-3. The Champions League semifinalists from last May were made to work by the Polish title holders, but Francis Coquelin spared the Spanish club’s blushes in the 89th minute to claim all three points.

David Moyes’ West Ham also had to come from behind, getting the better of FCSB 3-1 in London. Down a goal at half time, the Irons turned things around in five second half minutes, with a 90th minute goal to seal the win.

In their maiden European group stage match, Latvian side RFS held their own, taking a point back to Riga in a 1-1 stalemate with Fiorentina. Vincenzo Italiano’s side, making their European return after five seasons away, peppered their opponents goal with 30 attempts. However, they ended up having to settle for a point when they received a sucker punch with 15 minutes to play.

Among other results, Anderlecht return to group stage play with a 1-0 win over Danish side Silkeborg, Wolves loanee Fabio Silva’s penalty the difference. Nice and Köln had to settle for a 1-1 draw in France while the other game in the group saw Slovacko and Partizan Belgrade played to a thrilling 3-3 draw. Istanbul Basaksehir (against Hearts), AZ Alkmaar (Dnipro-1), and Basel (Pyunik) were the only other winners of this round. The other results of the round can be found here.

Former European winners FCSB and Anderlecht face off

Group A will see the favorites to make the knockout round face off as Istanbul Basaksehir will host Fiorentina. The Viola will need to make the most of their chances if they hope to take three points back home with them. Hearts heads to Latvia in the other tie, as RFS will look for their first ever group stage victory against the Scottish side.

Group B will have what is arguably the tie of the round. Former European Cup winners FCSB – formerly known as Steaua Bucharest – takes on Anderlecht, champions in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Cup Winners Cup. While neither side has had much success of late, this is a matchup with two historically big names in Europe. It will promise to be a great tie.

West Ham will head to Denmark to battle Silkeborg in the other Group B tilt. The Londoners already took on Danish opposition this season, getting the better of Viborg in the playoff round over two legs. Anything other than a West Ham will be seen as a shock.

Lech Poznan will take on Austria Wien in a fascinating Group C tie. A match that could decide second spot in this group, meaning a positive result would be huge for both teams. Villarreal travels to Israel to face Hapoel Be’er Sheva, with the expectation of going two for two.

Partizan heads home for their Group D game against Nice. Both teams have had their ups and downs so far this campaign, with three points going a long way in this group of death. Having taken unexpected points on the first matchday, Slovacko has Köln in Germany. Die Geißböcke will hope to claim three points in Czechia as anything less could come back to haunt them.

Expected Group E toppers AZ will welcome the story of this season’s Europa Conference League in Liechtensteiner Cup champions Vaduz. Still unbeaten in Europe through seven games this campaign, the side from the microstate’s capital won away to Konyaspor and Rapid Wien in qualifying. Dnipro-1 plays away to Apollon Limassol in the other game, both teams trying to get a grip on second spot.

Group F saw none of the four teams score last Thursday, a very remarkable feat. Now Djurgården welcomes Molde in a Nordic clash. It promises to be a fascinating affair as the Norwegian Eliteserien leaders will have their eyes set on another victory in what has been a superb year for them. Gent plays host to Shamrock Rovers, the Irish table toppers holding their own in Europe so far. De Buffalo’s will have to be at their best otherwise they could be in for a shock.

Slavia Praha takes on Ballkani in Group G. The venue of this season’s Europa Conference League final, the Eden Arena will see the Kosovar champs push for their maiden group stage victory in Europe. CFR Cluj goes to Turkey to face Sivasspor in the other tie, both teams likely to push to play in the tournament in the spring.

Žalgiris has Basel in Group H, the Lithuanian pacesetters having impressed in qualifying over the summer. While the Swiss regulars are heavy favourites, a Žalgiris win would not be completely out of the question. Finally, Pyunik plays host to Slovan Bratislava. After a disappointing 0-0 draw at home last week, Slovan will aim to get back to winning ways right away. Anything less will be seen as more trouble for the Slovaks.