What to watch out for in the UEFA Europa League

Astana’s minds on bigger things
Despite being bottom of Group B with just one point, Kazakhstan’s Astana are feeling upbeat as Olympiacos make the 4,000km trip east. Not only are Astana undefeated in ten European home games (W5 D5), Stanimir Stoilov’s side also clinched a third successive domestic title on 26 October, the coach gushing: “My players are heroes to me.” However, their mission is anything but accomplished, the Bulgarian adding: “Now we will put all our efforts into the UEFA Europa League, to earn some points and boost our UEFA ranking. Next season we’ll be playing in UEFA Champions League qualification again and we want to be seeded.”
Astana v Olympiacos, 16:00


Giuliano (Zenit)Giuliano is scoring and setting up goals for Zenit©AFP/Getty Images

Zenit homing in on last 32
Avoid defeat on matchday four and Mircea Lucescu’s men will be through with two games to spare. Given they have won three out of three so far (scoring 11 in the process) and not lost at home since March, few would bet against them doing so, even against a Dundalk team buoyed after securing a third consecutive Irish title since the clubs’ meeting on 20 October. “It’ll be a different game back home as we’ll be in our stadium with our fans creating a wonderful atmosphere,” said Zenit midfielder Axel Witsel. “It’s very important to score first in games with opponents like Dundalk. You get much more space after that.”
Zenit v Dundalk, 18:00

Fenerbahçe on the rebound
The Yellow Canaries’ 4-1 reverse at Old Trafford on matchday three was a result best forgotten for the visitors, whose flight to Manchester was delayed when a bird smashed into the cockpit window. However, Fenerbahçe can take comfort from history ahead of their 100th UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League match. Among their previous encounters with United, in the 2004/05 UEFA Champions League they lost 6-2 in England, Wayne Rooney famously hitting a hat-trick on his Reds debut. The history books rarely mention, however, that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went down 3-0 in the return leg, Tunçay Sanlı bagging a treble of his own.
Fenerbahçe v United, 18:00

Yuriy Vernydub (Zorya)Yuriy Vernydub is rightly proud of Zorya©Getty Images

Zorya’s ‘great school’
David’s Biblical battle with Goliath was a doddle in comparison with Zorya’s challenge in Group A, the Ukrainian club pitched against three European heavyweights in United, Fenerbahçe and Feyenoord. Zorya will be out if they lose and United win on matchday four, but coach Yuriy Vernydub is rightly proud of his charges. “We have been a bit unlucky,” he said. “We have conceded goals in added time or after weird deflections or silly defensive errors. But we have to learn. It’s a great school for our boys. I hope the Europa League will help them develop, and then they can help Ukraine’s national team as well as our club.”
Zorya v Feyenoord, 18:00

Plzeň’s sinking feeling
“We played the bottom team in the group, and now the bottom team is us,” defender Jan Baránek said after a 2-1 home loss to Astra extended Plzeň’s win-less run in Europe to 12 matches (albeit including five draws in their seven fixtures this season). They will have to hope that 13 is their lucky number when the sides reconvene in Romania. Plzeň coach Roman Pivarník said his team were “far behind Astra in terms of skills and tactical maturity” on matchday three, although he has not quite given up on qualification: “There is still a chance but we have to improve a lot.”
Astra v Plzeň, 18:00

Puel Britannia: The Saints go marching on
Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham) and Ronald Koeman (Everton) may both have felt they had taken modest Southampton as far as they could when they moved on to bigger clubs in recent years, but Frenchman Claude Puel has found more in the tank, his side eliciting praise in England. “Every time, every game, it’s important to play good football,” the manager said. They did that against Inter in Milan on matchday three but lost 1-0, to the annoyance of Virgil van Dijk. “We were the only team that deserved to win and to concede a goal with their only chance frustrated,” the defender fumed. Expect a stylish riposte at St Mary’s.
Southampton v Inter, 20.05

All times CEST

Claude Puel (Southampton)Claude Puel is turning heads at Southampton©AFP/Getty Images


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