Europa Conference League: Two weeks of tight games on tap

The official Europa Conference League matchball (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
The official Europa Conference League matchball (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images) /
West Ham United
West Ham will have it tough in their next two Europa Conference League games as they face Belgian side Anderlecht on the road and then at home. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images) /

The UEFA Europa Conference League continues on Thursday with the third and fourth rounds of the group phase.

Due to the compressed nature in this part of the season (due to the upcoming World Cup), the games will be played across back-to-back weeks.

That situation will see teams facing the same opponents twice in the space of a week, with many of these games very crucial for the teams involved.

So, let’s take a look at who faces whom and where things stand in each group.

Europa Conference League Matchdays 3, 4

Groups A, B: Basaksehir in command; West Ham faces tough test

Istanbul Basaksehir heads into their two-game showdown with Latvian side RFS on top of the section on 6 points. The Latvian champs are joint-bottom on 1 point, playing in Europe for the fourth season running. The Turks will advance to the knockout rounds if they do the double over RFS.

Fiorentina, who has not been at the same level as last season, takes on Scottish side Hearts. The latter is the first Scottish side outside of the Old Firm to make a European group stage since 2007. Having already claimed 3 points last time out, they could pose a threat to the Viola if the Italians do not shake off the rust.

A repeat of the 1975-76 UEFA Cup Winners Cup final will take place in Group B when Anderlecht and West Ham square off. The Irons lead the section on 6 points, with the Belgian record champions 2 points behind. Anderlecht won that Cup Winners Cup final 4-2 at Heysel. Progression to the knockouts is available to either side should they claim 6 points over the two games.

The other pairing in Group B pits Silkeborg vs FCSB. The Romanians made headlines after their owner stated that his side will be starting their youngsters for the remainder of the group stages. That will give Silkeborg hope of winning their first ever European club competition match proper. Neither side has won a match in this group, with FCSB on 1 point and the Danes on zero.

Groups C, D: Villarreal looks to go through; all at stake in Group D

It will be first against last in Group C as Villarreal gets set to take on Austria Wien. The Yellow Submarine is expected to go all the way in this year’s Europa Conference League, though they have struggled to convince in their opening two group games. They will look to do better against Austria, who has a point to their name but looked poor in their last match against Lech Poznan.

Speaking of the Polish champions, they will do battle with Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Two points ahead of their opponents heading into the two games, Lech can go through if both themselves and VIllarreal win both games. Be’er Sheva will have something to say about that though, as the Pot 2 team has not gone down without a fight so far.

Group D has been a tightly contested section so far. Köln has their noses in front, taking on Serbian regulars Partizan Belgrade. The Germans are the only team to have won a game in the group after the first two rounds as Partizan drew both ties. If the first two matchdays are anything to go by, the doubleheader between these two will be quite the show.

Hard to intimidate despite their lack of European pedigree, Slovácko has barely been the beating stick that was expected before a ball was kicked. They face Nice over the next couple of Thursdays, and could spring a surprise if Les Aiglons do not show their optimal level. The Czech Cup winners have done well so far, and can have enough reason to believe in an upset or two.

Groups E, F: AZ well on their way; Gent and Djurgården square off

As expected, AZ is two for two in their group and well on their way to the last 16. Next up for the Dutch side are Cypriot champions Apollon Limassol. Currently the best of the rest, Apollon got back to winning ways last round against Dnipro-1. While they are likely to lose both games, they can take solace in knowing that they are still in the hunt to get out of the group.

The biggest story of this year’s Europa Conference League, Vaduz battles Dnipro-1. Neither side made a group stage before this season despite Vaduz being a regular in qualifying. The Liechtenstein-based team will fancy their chances after pulling an array of upsets over the summer to get to this point.

Group F will see Molde take on Shamrock Rovers. Both teams are on 1 point after two games, meaning that at least one win will be required to still have hopes of moving on. The Irish side has mixed results against Norwegian opponents with a 1-1-2 record. With both sides leading their domestic leagues, it is the best of Norway and Ireland going at it.

The only team not currently ahead in their domestic league is Gent, who faces off with Djurgården. Both have a win and a draw from two fixtures, meaning that two wins will put that team through. This is Djurgården’s first ever foray in a European group stage, while Gent is no stranger to fall football in Europe. They won their Conference League group a year ago.

Groups G, H: Slavia in it tough; Basel looks to book place early

With three quarterfinal appearances over the last four seasons, Slavia Praha would have liked to be in a better position right now. Instead, they are struggling for results. They take on Romania’s CFR Cluj, who has yet to win in their first two group games. The Czechs should be favorites, especially seeing that Cluj has struggled so far in Europe this season.

Ballkani faces Sivasspor in the other pairing. The first ever Kosovo side to make a group stage, they have made a good account of themselves so far. The Turkish club must not get complacent, as Ballkani has shown they have enough to cause quite the stir.

In Group H, Basel will have Slovan Bratislava to go through. The Slovak champs have not been at their optimal best in their opening two matches, failing to win. Basel topped their group a year ago and is well on their way to doing it again. Two more wins should do the trick. Slovan needs at least a win to have any hope.

Next. 3 talking points following Barça loss at Inter Milan. dark

In what will be a tight two games, Zalgiris and Pyunik square off in what is the only pairing this round to feature two group stage debutants. Both countries need a result from their respective teams, making the two matches even more fascinating. The Armenian champions have 3 points, with their Lithuanian counterparts 2 points behind. While there may not be genuine stars involved here, do not underestimate the thrill that will come from the two matches.