Europa League enters back-to-back weeks of play once again
The third and fourth matchdays of the UEFA Europa League group stage will take place over the next two Thursdays. Much more will be made clearer after the fortnight of action in European football’s second tier club competition. As teams will prepare to face the same opponent in back-to-back weeks, here is a preview ahead of the matches.
Groups A, B: Tight groups going into play
Group A sees Bodø/Glimt will have a first ever meeting with English opposition in the form of Arsenal. The current top two in the group meet in London this week before the return match the following Thursday in the Arctic Circle. The Gunners have never lost in their six games against Norwegian sides, though Bodø will feel confident in being able to end that.
PSV, on one point from two games, faces struggling Swiss club Zürich. This the second time the pair will convene, Zürich having progressed in the 1963/64 European Cup quarterfinal at the expense of the Dutch side. The defending Swiss champions will have to be back to their best if they wish to collect anything from the matches.
On Oct. 20, Arsenal will welcome PSV in a match that was due to be played last matchday. The fixture was moved due to a lack of guaranteed security.
In Group B, Rennes will face Dynamo Kyiv. The duo went at it in the Europa League group stage four seasons ago with the Ukrainians prevailing across both matches. Both sides progressed from the groups on that occasion. However, Dynamo has no points from their first two games, which means they will need to turn things around quickly.
In the other tie of the section, Fenerbahçe faces AEK Larnaca. The Cypriot league runners-up from last season has never faced a Turkish side. Fener meanwhile, beat AEL Limassol in both games of their sole previous meeting against Cypriot teams a decade ago. One point separates the two clubs going into the first game in Istanbul.
Groups C, D: Real Betis, Braga, Union St. Gilloise aim for perfection
Jose Mourinho is on the cusp of having the most wins in UEFA club competitions as head coach. The Portuguese tactician’s current club, AS Roma, will battle Real Betis across the two weeks. After the unexpected loss to Ludogorets on Matchday 1, the Giallorossi will push to climb on top of the group after their two meetings with Betis.
HJK takes on Ludogorets in the other tie in this group. The Finnish champions beat Bulgarian side Beroe in 2017-18 Europa League qualifying. This will be Ludo’s first battle against a side from Finland. This is the best chance for HJK to avoid finishing bottom in the group as they are three points behind their opponents heading into these clashes.
On to Group D, where Malmö face Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin. Neither side has any points from their opening Europa League games. Six points will be required from both sides to resurrect their hopes of making this tournament’s knockout round. Malmö has had a torrid domestic campaign, meaning they need some results against their German rivals.
In what will be a fascinating pair of matches, co-leaders Braga and Union St. Gilloise go at it. The Belgian side is enjoying their debut season in Europe and has impressed so far. Taking on the more established Sporting Braga, they will have their hardest challenge yet. With both teams tied on six points, we are in for an enthralling pair of matches.
Groups E and F: Sociedad in good shape, all to play for in Group F
Real Sociedad takes on Sheriff Tirsapol of Moldova across the next two Thursdays. It was just last year Sheriff caused one of the biggest upsets in recent Champions League memory, topping another LaLiga side in Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. That will certainly be something for La Real to be weary of. They head the group, but another pair of wins will put them in excellent shape.
Omonoia Nicosia will get their third crack at English opposition against Manchester United. The Red Devils will be overwhelming favorites and can seldom afford a slip-up if they are to have any chance at winning the group. United has never faced a Cypriot side in Europe, so this will be a new experience for them.
Group F is wide open, with all four teams on 4 points. That means Feyenoord and Midtjylland have the chance to consolidate their huge Matchday 2 successes. The pair meets for the first time, though Midtjylland will take on a Dutch club for the season running. They have lost all four of those games though, meaning they will need a better showing these two Thursdays to change that stat.
Licking their wounds from the last round, Lazio faces Sturm Graz, both teams knowing all hope is not lost. The Austrians will be out for revenge, as they lost to the same side 20 years ago on penalties in the UEFA Cup. With plenty of experience against Italian teams over the years, Sturm will have to use that to their advantage against the Biancocelesti.
Groups G, H: Freiburg, Ferencvaros off to impressive starts
German side Freiburg gets set to take on Coupe de France winners Nantes. Les Canaries will be the 11th different team the Bundesliga outfit will face in their European history. Two wins will get Freiburg into the knockout rounds for the first time. Nantes has not been off to the best start in Ligue 1, though they can certainly put themselves in a good position to advance from the group should they collect at least one win.
The other matchup in the group pits together Qarabağ and Olympiakos Piraeus. The Azeri champions defeated PAOK in both of their group stage matches in this competition back in 2016/17. Olympiakos got the better of Neftçi last season in Champions League qualifying. Something will have to give here, as the Greek champions look to get back to winning ways in Europe.
Group H pacesetters Ferencvaros has a glorious chance to put themselves in an excellent position. Standing in their way over the next two weeks will be Crvena zvezda, currently bottom without a point. The Hungarians reached the 1984-85 UEFA Cup Winners Cup final, defeating Red Star in the semifinals. The Serbians will need to get things going quickly if they wish to avoid finishing bottom.
AS Monaco and Trabzonspor, currently tied on 3 points, face off in an intriguing encounter. Both teams were agonizingly close to making the Champions League group stage, but had to settle for the Europa League. The Turkish champions have a 3-2-1 record against Ligue 1 teams; Monaco an overall record of 4-1-3 versus Turkish opposition and they’ll hope to improve upon that over the next two weeks.