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THE SPORTS LIVEBLOG: Europa League football


Thursday, November 24: Match Day Five:

Manchester United vs Feyenoord (8.05pm)

Manchester United play host to Dutch side Feyenoord at Old Trafford knowing that failure to win could result in elimination.

Feyenoord started the season with 11 wins from 12, yet have only won one of their last five but are still top of the Eredivise.

United are struggling for form in the Premier League but are unbeaten in 13 European games at Old Trafford.

Manager Jose Mourinho has stressed the importance of the game saying: “Feyenoord is a game that has become knock out.” He has reiterated there is no room for defeat.

Feyenoord boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst says he “expects a Manchester United backlash” after his side beat them 1-0 in the reverse fixture.

Team news suggests Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan is set to make an appearance after being left out of United’s draw against Arsenal. Zlatan Ibrahimović is also in line to start following news he is having his contract at Old Trafford extended.

Karim El Ahmadi does not travel with the Feyenoord squad after suffering an injury at the weekend. Terence Kongolo is also ruled out of the game with an injury and Eric Botteghin is suspended. – By Adam Murphy and James Smith


Athletic Bilbao vs Sassuolo (8.05pm)

Athletic Bilbao take on Serie A strugglers Sassuolo in their penultimate Europa League group stage match.

Athletic will be looking to undo their 3-0 drubbing to Sassuolo on match day one, where the Italian club made a dream start to their Europa League debut.

Despite the exceptional start Sassuolo, sit bottom of the table on goal difference with only one point separating top and bottom. Athletic Bilbao sit 2nd which could all but guarantee qualification to the group stage depending on other results.

Since Sassuolo’s impressive victory against Bilbao, they have only managed to register one league win, leaving them in 16th place in Serie A. They have managed two draws and a loss in Europe.

Meanwhile, Athletic have won both their home Europa League games and recorded an impressive 1-0 win against Villarreal at the weekend, putting them one point behind Atletico Madrid in 7th.

Athletic Bilbao are expected to name a strong starting 11 with Spanish veteran Artiz Aduriz, who is in top form after netting 5 goals in their last Europa League game making him joint top scorer of the competition.

Sassuolo on the other hand will be looking to bulk up their squad and potentially going to a back three, after conceding at least three goals in their last three matches. Athletic’s Europa League group games average of 3.5 goals per game this season. – By Elliott Horne


Dundalk vs AZ Alkmaar (8.05pm)

Dundalk and AZ Alkmaar will be hoping to keep their Europa League ambitions alive as they face off at the Tallaght Stadium.

The sides previously met on match day one, where Dundalk’s Ciaran Kilduff rescued a draw in the 89th minute, despite the Irish side being down to ten men.

The reigning Irish league champions currently sit level on four points with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, going into their penultimate Europa League group D game.

The Lilywhites will be hoping that midfielders Ronan Finn, Chris Shields and Stephen O’Donnell are fit to face the Dutch side.

Stephen Kenny, Dundalk’s manager said: “If Dundalk progress, we’ll eclipse the Leicester fairytale.”

Alkmaar currently find themselves fifth in the Eredivise and bottom of their Europa League group, having not won any of their last eight Europa League games.

They will need to get a win away if they have any realistic chance of remaining in the competition, although a draw still keeps them in sight of an outside qualification into the round of 16.

A statistic that Alkmaar will be hoping to change is their shot conversion rate (3.5 per cent) as they have only managed to convert two of their 57 shots in the Europa League this season. – By Harry Hawthorne and Louis Hobbs


Olympiakos vs BSC Young Boys (8.05pm)

BSC Young Boys travel to Greece to take on Olympiakos knowing they must win to keep their qualification hopes alive.

Due to their superior head to head record, the hosts know a point will ensure their progression to the next round.

Due to recent attacks on referees in Greece, Olympiakos haven’t played since November 6, but manager Paulo Bento told the club website he isn’t concerned.

He said: “No, I don’t think we can be affected by that. My job is to find solutions in problems that may arise. We do not think of things beyond our control.”

Midfielder Sebá is looking to continue his recent form in the Europa League after scoring three goals in their last two group games.

An Esteban Cambiasso goal earned the Greek champions all three points in the reverse fixture, latching on to a Brown Ideye cross.

Guillaume Hoarau is expected to lead the line for BSC Young Boys, having scored a hat-trick against APOEL, which coincidentally are his side’s only goals in the competition this season.

However, Olympiakos have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last seven home European fixtures. – Ashley Colbourn and George Rogan


Saint–Ètienne vs Mainz 05 (8.05pm)

Mainz will be making a trip over to France as they take on Saint-Èttiene in match day five of the Europa League.

Just three points separate the two sides in Group C as they have big ambitions to get to the knock-out stages.

A Saint-Ètienne win will see them qualify, while a defeat for Mainz will see them all but eliminated from the competition.

Saint-Ètienne ended a run of six games unbeaten in all competitions as they lost 1-0 to Nice last Sunday. Their German opponents are looking to turn around their fortunes coming off the back of a 6-1 hammering to Anderlecht in match day four.

They have the advantage of having a late kick-off ahead of the other Group C game between FK Qabala and group leaders RSC Anderlecht.

Saint-Ètienne are going into this game with only one injury with leftback Pierre-Yves Polomat sustaining a long term hamstring injury.

A lot of Mainz’s rotation options have succumbed to injury as they are missing five players for tonight’s fixtures. – By Billy Stephenson and Charles Jones


Fenerbahce vs Zorya Luhansk (4pm)

Fenerbahçe will look to continue their impressive form after scoring 13 goals in their previous five matches in all competitions, conceding just three.

Robin Van Persie scored a brace against bitter league rivals Galatasaray on Sunday, taking him to seven goals in 12 games and will be a major threat in this Group A encounter.

It will be key for Zorya defenders Rafael Forster and Dmytro Hrechyshkin to contain Van Persie as they successfully did in the reverse fixture which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Zorya were extremely unlucky in the reverse fixture, conceding in the 96th minute after a last gasp effort from Simon Kjaer.

The visitors need at least a draw to stand any chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Yuriy Vernydub’s side have failed to win any of their last five away matches and currently sit bottom of the group.

Dmitry Grechishkin spoke to the press ahead of this fixture, saying: “I think we are well prepared for this meeting.

“We understand what it would mean for us to match Fenerbahçe. I hope we will achieve a positive result.” – By Charlie Russell and Tom Reyer


Zenit St Petersburg vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (4pm)

Zenit St. Petersburg host Maccabi Tel-Aviv at the Krestovsky Stadium. The sides previously met on Matchday One, where Zenit snatched a 91st minute winner after trailing 3-0 with 14 minutes left to play.

The Russian side, who have already booked their place in the round-of-32 after four straight wins, will continue in the same vein according to manager Mircea Lucescu.

He told the club’s website: “We should respect this tournament and we won’t forget that we should win, for us and for Russia.”

Zenit have no fresh injury concerns other than Russian international Oleg Shatov, who will be out of action until the end of the year due to an ankle injury.

Tel-Aviv, who still have it all to play for in joint-second place, have former Premier League players Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben Haim in their ranks for this afternoon’s games.

The Israelis are tied on four points with Dundalk, who face AZ Alkmaar in the penultimate game of group D.

Striker Vidar Kjartansson told the club: “We have more confidence; we’re going to Zenit to win.”

Maccabi scored three times in the reverse fixture before defender Eli Dasa was sent off. They will hope to find the net in similar fashion this time round. – By Kane Styles and Jonny Whitfield


FC Astana vs Apoel Nicosia (4pm)

Matchday five in Group B sees Kazakhstan’s Astana take on Cypriot Apoel Nicosia at the Astana Arena.

Apoel go into the game only needing a draw to qualify for the last 32. Astana can only salvage some pride with a win, forcing Apoel to wait a bit longer to secure qualification.

Both teams are in good form in their respective leagues, and Apoel have performed well against tough opposition after coming away from Olympiacos with a well-fought win last time out. Astana also ground out a result at home to the Greek champions.

Astana are unbeaten in their last 11 European home games (W5 D6) and will hope to secure their first home win in this group stage after drawing the previous two.

Apoel manager Thomas Christiansen isn’t taking the opposition lightly, despite them being bottom of the group. He said on the club’s official Twitter that the Cypriot champions have improved since their last meeting together, and wants his players to treat the game as they have the previous four. – By Jake Jones and Josh Chittenden


Sparta Prague vs Southampton (6pm)

Southampton travel to the Generali Arena to face group K leaders Sparta Prague looking for their first away goal and away win in the Europa League this season.

Southampton will secure a place in the knockout stages with victory, coupled with Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva failing to defeat an out of sorts Internazionale in the group’s other fixture.

Southampton comfortably beat Prague 3-0 at St Mary’s in the first game of the group stage thanks to a double from in-form Charlie Austin.

Sparta Prague remain unbeaten since in this season’s Europa League impressively beating Internazionale 3-1 at home followed by successive victories against Hapoel Be’er Sheva. They are top of the group on nine points and in pole position to qualify.

Manager Claude Puel has rotated his squad for European fixtures this season. With captain Jose Fonte and influential midfielder Dusan Tadic side-lined through injury, Puel will again change the side that held title-chasing Liverpool to 0-0 at the weekend.

The Saints will be looking to change their fortunes away from home in Europe having gained just a point on their travels so far to qualify with a game to spare. – By Jordan Rushworth and Kevin Butler    


Fiorentina vs PAOK Salonika (6pm)

Fiorientina can qualify for the last 32 with a point at home against Greek side PAOK Salonika in Group J.

The away side haven’t played a league game since November 6, with the Greek Super League under suspension after an arson attack on a referee’s house.

Paulo Sousa is expected to field a weakened team, as he is likely to have one eye on Monday’s Serie A game with Inter Milan.

Cristian Tello is suspended in the league so he is in line for a start, but main men Nikola Kalinic and Federico Bernardeschi are likely to be rested ahead of the Inter game. Khouma Babacar is expected to lead the line tonight instead.

La Viola should be full of confidence, after a 4-0 Tuscany derby win over Empoli at the weekend, but Sousa isn’t resting on his laurels.

“PAOK are the strongest and most competitive team in the group. They don’t even have the league to think about,” Sousa said in his press conference.

For PAOK, it is a must-win game if they are to stand any chance of qualifying themselves for the last 32. They currently lie 3rd in Group J, three points behind Azerbaijani side FK Qarabag, and defeat in Italy will end their European campaign.

It could be a struggle for PAOK however, with manager Vladimir Ivic without his first-choice centre back Georgios Tzavellas, meaning a reshuffle at the back for the Greek side. – By Alex Gibbings and Jack Cousin


Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs Inter Milan (6pm)

Inter Milan travel to Israel knowing that anything less than a win will see them exit the competition.

Inter are coming off the back of a 2-2 draw with rivals AC Milan, where they lost midfielder Gary Medel to a two-month knee injury.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva defeated Hapoel Haifa 5-1 at the weekend and will be looking to build on this confidence in their Europa League clash.

In the last meeting between the sides, the leaders of the Ligat Ha’al defeated the Italian giants 2-0 at the San Siro. But new manager Stefano Pioli has warned his opposition they won’t go down without a fight saying: “We know it’s going to be hard but we’re going to pull out all the stops and try to win.”

In addition to winning the reverse fixture, Be’er Sheva have the advantage of playing in front of their home fans. Their home record in the league this season has been impressive, scoring 17 goals in five games, and staying undefeated in the process.

However, Stefano Pioli seems to have brought back a fighting spirit to the Nerazzurri and will be hoping to keep their Europa League chances alive with a victory in Israel. – By George Sanders and Ben Emmott


Slovan Liberec vs FK Qarabag

Azerbaijani champions Qarabag FK travel to bottom of the group FC Slovan Liberec in what will be a decisive game in Group J.

The hosts need a win to keep their Europa League campaign alive, while Qarabag could progress to the next stage if PAOK draw with group leaders Fiorentina.

This will be a tough ask for them as Qarabag have won their last four games away. One of those was against PAOK, beating them 1-0 to send them three points clear of 3rd place.

Last time the two sides met the Czechs held Qarabag at the Azerson Arena in a game that saw the fastest goal in the competition’s history, scored by Jan Sykora in a record eleven seconds.

Liberec will be looking for former Liverpool striker Milan Baroš to continue his 100 percent goal-scoring record in the Europa League, though Qarabag have not conceded in their last five fixtures in all competitions. – By Dominic Medcalf and Jake Adkin




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