Nantes v Freiburg
This is an encounter between the team second from bottom in Ligue 1 and an opponent second from top of the Bundesliga. It is a match that the visiting side really should have their sights on winning to likely secure their passage through to the latter stages of the Europa League – and with the group winners skipping an intermediate stage, it is important for them that they don’t drop points.
Freiburg are a strong road team as they have proven by winning three of their five Bundesliga away matches this season, while they were also handsome 3-0 winners at Olympiacos a month ago.
By contrast, Nantes are in awful shape. They have lost five of their last six matches, and while each of these defeats has come away from home, the manner in which they were beaten 2-0 in Germany a week ago suggests they will be unable to compete with Freiburg in this match.
With a small squad, they are wilting under the pressure of a heavy fixture list and may need to start shifting their focus on Ligue 1 survival with four teams going down this season. Europe has provided an unwelcome distraction.
There are only a couple of factors in the home side’s favour here. The first of these will be strong backing from a big and noisy crowd, while the second is that Freiburg have Bayern Munich to play on Sunday evening, so may take their eye off the ball to some extent.
If the visitors have their focus, though, this is a match that they will surely win.
Feyenoord v FC Midtjylland
The match between these two teams last week ended with an entertaining 2-2 draw. Unfortunately, Dutch hooligans stole the show as they entered the home section before the match and turned the stadium into a zone of violence.
Feyenoord dominated the previous match and it was well deserved that they were up 2-0 at half time. Unfortunately for the Dutch giants, they took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half, allowing the Danes to slowly get back into the game. Feyenoord can’t afford to commit a similar mistake at home. All four teams in the group have four points, and the home game against Midtjylland is the easiest of their remaining fixtures. The Dutch side are in great shape though. They have lost just twice this season, and they are currently fourth in the Eredivisie. At the weekend, they took an important 2-0 victory at home against FC Twente, who are fifth.
After a slow start to the season, which caused head coach Bo Henriksen to lose his job, Midtjylland are slowly getting back on track. They have climbed to fifth place in the Superliga and are undefeated in their last six matches. This streak includes the already legendary 5-1 victory at home against Lazio and a 2-1 victory against FC Copenhagen. Head coach Albert Capellas has elevated the level of the team, and Midtjylland are once again a dangerous team that can challenge even the best teams.
We expect another entertaining match between two attacking teams. The previous meeting in Herning was great, and we could very well be in for something similar. Both teams are best when going forward, and we are thus going with both teams to score at odds 1.52 at Betfair Sportsbook.
PSV v FC Zurich
It was another harsh lesson for FC Zurich in the UEFA Europa League last weekend as they were not only beaten by PSV but humiliated on their own patch, losing 5-1 to the Dutch giants to make it three defeats from three in Group A of this competition. The loss to a superior side was not unexpected, however, the manner of it was hard to stomach for a side who have taken hit after hit since the beginning of the season.
There has been no saving grace domestically either. FCZ extended their winless run in the Super League to thirteen matches as a result of their goalless draw with Winterthur on Sunday. If there was ever a match to get themselves out of a rut, that looked to be their best opportunity against a team that is also struggling right by their side at the bottom of the table. Instead, they are now officially on their longest winless run in the league since the 1996/97 season.
However, there is hope on the horizon. 47-year-old Danish coach Bo Henriksen, most recently at FC Midtjylland, was announced as the new manager this week and will take charge of his first game with the trip to Eindhoven on Thursday. It is no secret that the priority for FCZ now is to get themselves out of their current predicament in the Super League. Still, they’ll be hoping for a much-improved performance on European duty before then too.
PSV were efficient, ruthless and simply much better than an FCZ team that had neither the attack and certainly not the defence to repel them last week. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s side picked up another win at the weekend and this could be another ugly night for the Swiss champions. I predict a second dominant win for PSV against Zurich in the space of a week.
Ludogorets v HJK
HJK come into their third Europa League group game in good form domestically – but will need to step up a level against an opponent with an established pedigree. HJK have performed heroically in their opening fixtures in the group but with no reward, the 0-2 defeat to Betis was closer than the scoreline suggested, while losing 3-0 to Roma was tough after an early red card and some big names coming off the bench to press the advantage in the second half.
HJK currently lead the Veikkausliiga with two rounds remaining and would be closer to retaining the title but for a sloppy display at Honka last week. In swatting away Inter 3-0 on Sunday, they were able to rotate the squad sufficiently to allow recovery from the international break. Lucas Lingman was excellent for Finland in the Nations League, while Anthony Olusanya has been scoring vital goals in the league and might be in contention for a start here given recent form.
This fixture still remains a step up in terms of quality, a team who defeated Roma last month are a far more dangerous opponent than a manager-less Inter who are drifting aimlessly. HJK have an experienced squad but have been unable to call on their twin towers at the back (Toivio and Arajuuri) together and Perpa Hetemaj, now 35, can rarely complete 90 minutes of his all action style. Lingman’s possession and guile will be crucial to give Klubi a chance of keeping the ball and building attacks, a sell out crowd in Helsinki will be in good voice and they have a great keeper in Conor Hazard, for the rest of this season at least.
Real Sociedad v Sheriff Tiraspol
These two teams met only last week and the reverse fixture in Moldova ended with a 2-0 win for Real Sociedad, so the Spanish team will be confident of repeating a comfortable victory over their rivals which would guarantee their spot in at least the play-offs for the knockout stages.
Real Sociedad’s shooting is among the best in the Europa League, ranking fifth for accuracy with 47.6% of their efforts on target and 23.8% of them ending up being goals. Their clinicality in front of goal and their strength of depth in attack can give real confidence to players like Mohamed-Ali Cho or Carlos Fernández, who could come in should Imanol Alguacil look to rotate.
Sheriff, on the other hand, have been struggling in front of goal. The Moldovan league leaders have failed to score in three of their last five matches and registered only one goal in Sunday’s win over Dinamo-Auto. Coming up against a Real Sociedad side who are among the Europa League’s most defensively strong, boasting the best aerial duel success rate in the competition at 62%, will be a real test.
The Basque team will be hoping to keep a clean sheet, which would be their third in a row, and score for fun as they look to seal a place in the next round of the competition. Sheriff’s record in Spain, having beaten Real Madrid on their last visit, is impressive, but they won’t be able to match the quality of a team who rank fifth for form in LaLiga.
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