Europa League action resumes after the International break. The group stages throw up some intriguing clashes, as usual.
Portuguese League leaders Porto travel to Turkey to take on Besiktas. Both clubs have a 100% record in Europa League so far. The home and away fixtures between these two teams can very well decide the outcome of the group. Porto has regained their vice-grip over the domestic league. Last season, their bitter rivals Benfica captured the title, with a swagger; now, Benfica has been weakened with the departure of Ramires and Angel Di Maria, something that Porto has taken advantage of. Porto already won the Super Cup, beating Benfica 2-0. Hulk, returning from a lengthy ban, has been scoring goals for fun – he has found the back of the net six times in seven matches. His partner Falcao has scored two goals in Europa league. Istanbul is not an easy place to travel; this could be a cracking game.
The match of the night takes place in Estadio San Paolo in Naples. Two former winners of UEFA Cup face off against each other – Napoli and Liverpool. The recent form of two clubs has been sharply contrasting. Napoli has been one of the most exciting teams in the peninsula and is currently placed 4th in the table. Liverpool on the other hand is placed in 19th position, with just a single win out of eight matches. They have been mired in problems on and off the field. Coach Roy Hodgson, who led Fulham to EL final last season, is under immense pressure. Talismanic striker Fernando Torres’ form has never been worse. The Azzuris will be bolstered by the brilliant form of Edinson Cavani. Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi form one of the most exciting attacks in Italy and can cause a lot of problem to Liverpool defence. Napoli is yet to win a game in Europa league, and they would look to take advantage of Merseysiders’ bad patch.
In Group H, VFB Stuttgart host Spanish club Getafe. Stuttgart has a perfect record in Europa League, but have hit rock bottom in Bundesliga. In St Petersburg, Zenit, still unbeaten in their domestic league, welcome Hadjuk Split. A win in this tie can guarantee the Russian side a progression from Group G. Andriy Shevchenko and Dynamo Kyiv would look to resurrect their campaign in Group E, but their job won’t be easy. They travel to Alkmar to take on an AZ side who are notoriously tough at home.
Borussia Dortmund, one of the best supported clubs in Europe, captured the summit of Bundesliga last weekend. Statistically Borussia possess the best attack as well as the best defence in Germany. Their form in Europa League has been patchy in comparison. They scored two goals in the last five minutes to eke out an exciting 3-4 win over Karpaty Lviv, but slumped to a home loss against Sevilla. Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios have been in exceptional form. Their opponent Paris St Germain has a perfect record so far, winning both matches. They have made a decent start to the league campaign and are currently placed third. Star striker Nene has been scoring consistently in both league and Europa League.
Group A is poised tantalizingly. Polish club Lech Poznan are shock table leaders after two games. They will have their task cut out when the Blue side of Manchester comes to visit them. City has been on an upward curve in the Premier league and is placed in second position. In the other match, Juventus face Red Bull Salzburg. Juventus, record winners of old UEFA Cup, have shown signs of improvement in recent times; they would look to maintain that winning habit. With two points from two games, this match can be crucial in terms of progression. They will be bolstered by a 4-0 win over Lecce last weekend.
Defending champions Atletico Madrid have been in doldrums in Europa League. After two rounds, they are yet to win a match and are bottom in the table; they host Rosenborg this week. Jose Mourinho infamously lost his Chelsea job after a loss to the Norwegian club, and Atletico will be keen to avoid a similar result. Diego Forlan has once again put on his scoring boots, but his partner Kun Aguero has been out of sorts.
Palermo welcomes CSKA Moscow in a tie that could decide the pole position for Group-F. The Sicilians have been one of the most free-scoring sides in Italy. Young Argentine fantasista Javier Pastore is one of the best midfielders in Europe right now. He has been scoring goals as well as assisting them. Sporting Director Walter Sabatini pulled off a gem of a deal by signing Slovenian Josip Illicic. Illicic has already grabbed 4 goals in 6 Serie A games, including strikes against Juve and Inter. This match will showcase some of the most exciting players in Europe right now. For CSKA Moscow, Keisuke Honda, Mark Gonzalez, Seydou Doumbia and Zoran Tosic will take to field, while Palermo will have Abel Hernandez in addition to Pastore and Illicic.
Villarreal has made a brilliant start to their domestic campaign. With strikers Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi in form, they are 2nd in the table – a point behind leaders Real Madrid. They will be taking on Greek side PAOK. The Greeks are on top of Group-D after collecting four points from two games.
For a detailed list of fixtures and Group standings click here.