FC Zurich v PSV
FC Zurich brought an end to a six-game losing streak courtesy of their 1-1 draw in the 279th edition of the Zurich Derby at the weekend. That match also marked the first game without Franco Foda for der Stadtclub. The German manager had failed to make the grade as the successor of Andre Breitenreiter and was sacked with zero league wins and ten defeats in eighteen games. Foda did succeed in qualifying FCZ for the UEFA Europa League though and they will welcome Dutch giants PSV to the Letzigrund on Thursday.
There was some improvement from FCZ in the match with rivals Grasshoppers, but it seems clear that there is much work to be done for a team that is languishing at the bottom of the table with just three points. Even more galling for Zurich is the fact that this is their current plight only five months on from being crowned champions of Switzerland. A lack of cutting edge has been a consistent problem and it was evident again on Saturday as they created the better chances in the match and will probably feel like it was one they could’ve won. On the plus side, their fragile defence was only undone by an excellent strike from outside the area rather than as a result of some of the calamitous defending we’ve seen in recent weeks.
PSV represent a different animal to Grasshoppers and, quite frankly, is another match in this competition that is likely to showcase Zurich being out of their depth at this level. The Eindhoven club have more than enough quality, including one of the brightest prospects in Europe in Cody Gakpo, to unpick this leaky defence. I don’t think there will be any issues in the effort department for Zurich here, but they are unlikely to be able to live with the Dutch side. I predict a PSV win.
Malmo v Union Berlin
A vital showdown between two teams at the bottom of Europa League’s Group D, both on 0 points to date, this matchup could determine who is still in with a realistic chance of qualifying for the next round going into GW4.
Malmö’s season has been much below par, however their form since Åge Hareide’s return as manager has been a slight improvement compared to the misery which preceded it. Seven points in the last three league matches means they still have a decent chance of cracking the top three and securing European football next season, and this weekend’s 0-0 draw with third-placed Hammarby wasn’t memorable but keeps them two points behind their opponents. The European form has been wretched, though, being beaten by admittedly better sides in Braga and Union St Gilloise.
The test against Union Berlin isn’t much easier – the away side come into this clash atop the Bundesliga, despite losing 2-0 away to Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend – their first league defeat this season. With Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund both struggling to collect wins, Union Berlin have taken full advantage, winning five of their eight opening league matches.
With an impressive defensive record, only conceding 6, their attack has also been free flowing, scoring nearly two goals per match. Sheraldo Becker has been a standout performer, scoring 6 in 8 starts domestically, already bettering last season’s tally of 4. The only disappointment this campaign has been the poor European form, suffering two 1-0 defeats to Braga and Union St Gilloise. Nonetheless, both games were very even and it’s a highly competitive group.
Despite Malmö’s improved form in recent weeks, their play hasn’t been anywhere near what we’ve come to expect from the Swedish giants. While they will certainly attempt to get a result here, I expect the focus to be on cracking the top three in Allsvenskan. The German league leaders are likely to constitute too big a challenge and the visitors should come away with the victory here.
FC Midtjylland v Feyenoord
Group F of the Europa League is perhaps the most exciting of them all. After the first two rounds, all four teams have three points, and it is currently impossible to predict who advances. At the top of the group, we have Feyenoord and FC Midtjylland with +4 and +3 in goal difference respectively, and these two teams meets in Denmark on Thursday evening.
The home team demolished Lazio 5-1 in their previous Europa League outing. This was one of this season’s biggest upsets in all of the European competitions, and now it is time for the Black Wolves to follow up on that impressive achievement. Midtjylland enters the game in decent form, although they disappointed at home in the weekend by only drawing against arch rivals Viborg FF in the derby of central Jutland. Before the national team break though, they delivered a strong performance by defeating FC Copenhagen, and they should be competitive for the meeting with Feyenoord.
The Dutch team are travelling to Denmark with a few poor results in the luggage. In the weekend, they drew 1-1 away against NEC Nijmegen, and the week before they suffered a late defeat to PSV. Before the defeat to PSV, though, Feyenoord demolished Sturm Graz, who defeated Midtjylland, 6-0 at home, which proves just how difficult this group is to predict. There’s a lot of quality in the Feyenoord squad, and especially 23-year-old Danilo, who has scored six goals in eight league games this season, can hurt any opponent.
We expect an even game between two teams that are best when they are going forward. Odds of 1.50 on both teams to score at Betfair represent great value.
Rennes v Dynamo Kyiv
After a slow start to the season, Rennes are slowly clicking into gear, producing the type of thrilling attacking football that Ligue 1 fans had come to expect from Bruno Genesio’s side last season, when only PSG outscored them. With a collection of thrilling attacking players, they began this campaign in uncharacteristically wasteful form, but have started to find some rhythm lately.
At the weekend, they looked in top form as they swept past Strasbourg 3-1 away from home, while their most recent home matches domestically have ended 3-1 and 5-0 in their favour against Brest and Auxerre respectively. They may have subsequently drawn 2-2 with Fenerbahce, but they played some thrilling stuff in that match and were unlucky to only draw, having been two goals clear.
Crucially, Rennes are treating this competition seriously, and while some changes will be made to their starting XI, they have sufficient strength in depth to cope.
Their opponents, meanwhile, are not in a good way. Clearly their domestic situation is impossibly difficult, while on the field the team is not performing to their historical standards. They have lost six of their last eight matches and are only mid-table in the Ukrainian Premier Liga. After losing their opening two matches to Fenerbahce and AEK, their prospects of qualification already look bleak and a long trip to western France promises to be another difficult journey.
Rennes are the best team in the group on paper, and they would be expected to show it in this match.
Freiburg v Nantes
Joint Bundesliga leaders alongside Union Berlin, Freiburg come into their UEFA Europa League clash against Ligue 1 side Nantes unbeaten in eight games. Their current run of form has resulted in six wins and two draws. In 11 games across all competitions this season, Christian Streich’s side have lost just once, a 3-1 defeat against Borussia Dortmund on August 12, despite taking a 1-0 lead. Freiburg’s impressive performances no longer come as a surprise, despite their shoestring budget in comparison to clubs around them such as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt, etc.
Following Nico Schlotterbeck’s departure to Borussia Dortmund, Freiburg recruited well in signing former defender Matthias Ginter on a free transfer. The World Cup winner adds vital experience to Streich’s squad, and the central defender has already struck up an incredible partnership with Philipp Lienhart. In attack, they swapped Ermedin Demirovic for Michael Gregoritsch and the Austrian has started in excellent form with six goals and one assist in 10 games across the Bundesliga and Europa League.
Operating in a 4-2-3-1, expect Nicolas Hofler and Maximillian Eggestein to shield the defence, allowing Vincenzo Grifo, Ritsu Doan and Daniel-Kofi Kyereh to support Gregoritsch. Jeong Woo-Yeong also offers a good option for Streich off the bench in the absence of Roland Sallai. Averaging 5.6 chances per 90 across their last five games across all competitions, Freiburg tend to be clinical, -1.0 goals from their xG of 8.
For Nantes, it’s a different story. After winning the Coupe de France last season, they automatically qualified for this season’s Europa League. Although they beat Olympiacos on MD1, they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat against Qarabağ. Antoine Kombouaré is also facing pressure with just one Ligue 1 win in nine games this season. Nantes come into this with three defeats in their last four in all competitions.
A 4-1 defeat against Monaco at the weekend, Kombouaré is expected to field a similar XI for his preferred 3-4-3 formation. They created one chance, which they took, but against a Freiburg side that has conceded just two goals in their last five games, it’s difficult to see how Nantes could win here. Clinical in attack and strong at the back, Freiburg look good to maintain their 100% record in this season’s Europa League.
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