What to look for in the next fortnight



West Ham will have the tough task in their next two Europa Conference League games as they take on Belgian side Anderlecht on the road and then at home. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

The UEFA Europa Conference League continues on Thursday with the third and Fourth group stage rounds.

Due to the compressed nature of this part of the season (due to the upcoming World Cup), matches will be played over consecutive weeks.

This situation will see teams face the same opponents twice in the space of a week, with many of these matches being very crucial for the teams involved.

So let’s see who’s facing who and where things stand in each group.

Europa Conference League Days 3, 4

Groups A, B: Basaksehir in command; West Ham face a tough test

Istanbul Basaksehir start their two-game encounter with Latvian side RFS at the top of the section with 6 points. The Latvian champions are tied with 1 point, playing in Europe for the fourth consecutive season. The Turks will advance to the round of 16 if they complete the double against RFS.

Fiorentina, who have not been at the same level as last season, face Scottish side Hearts. The latter is the first Scottish side outside the Old Firm to play in a European group stage since 2007. Having picked up 3 points last time out, they could pose a threat to the Viola if the Italians don’t shake off the rust .

A repeat of the 1975-76 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final will take place in Group B when Anderlecht and West Ham meet. The Irons lead the section with 6 points, with the Belgian record champions at 2 points. Anderlecht won the Cup Winners’ Cup final 4-2 at Heysel. Progression to knockouts is available to either side if they claim 6 points in both matches.

The other group B duo opposes Silkeborg to FCSB. Romanians made headlines after their owner said his team would start their youngsters for the rest of the group stages. This will give Silkeborg hope of winning their first-ever European club competition game. Neither team won a game in this group, with FCSB 1 point and the Danes zero.

Groups C, D: Villarreal looking to qualify; it’s all on the line in Group D

It will be the first against the last in Group C as Villarreal prepare to face Austria Wien. The Yellow Submarine are set to go all the way in this year’s Europa Conference League, although they have struggled to convince in their opening two group games. They will look to do better against Austria, who have a point to their name but looked poor in their last game against Lech Poznan.

Speaking of the Polish champions, they will face Israeli Hapoel Beer Sheva. Two points ahead of their opponents going into both games, Lech can move on if they and Villarreal win both games. Beersheba will have something to say about that though, as the Pot 2 team haven’t gone down without a fight so far.

Group D has been a hotly contested section so far. Cologne have their noses ahead, taking on Serbian regulars Partizan Belgrade. The Germans are the only team to have won a match in the group after the first two rounds as Partizan drew. If the first two matchdays are anything to go by, the double header between these two will be quite a sight.

Difficult to intimidate despite his lack of European pedigree, Slovácko was barely the expected batting stick before a ball was kicked. They face Nice on the next two Thursdays and could surprise if The Eaglets do not show their optimal level. The Czech Cup winners have done well so far and may have enough reason to believe in a surprise or two.

Groups E, F: AZ on track; Gent and Djurgården clash

As expected, AZ are two for two in their group and on course for the round of 16. Next up for the Dutch team is Cypriot champion Apollon Limassol. Currently the best of the rest, Apollon returned to victory in the last round against Dnipro-1. Although they’re likely to lose both games, they can take comfort in knowing that they’re still looking to get out of the group.

The biggest story in this year’s Europa Conference League, Vaduz take on Dnipro-1. Neither side has played in a group stage before this season, although Vaduz are regulars in qualifying. The Liechtenstein-based side will believe their chances after causing a series of upheavals over the summer to get this far.

Group F will see Molde take on Shamrock Rovers. Both teams are 1 point after two games, which means it will take at least one win to have any hope of moving on. The Irish team has mixed results against Norwegian opponents with a 1-1-2 record. With both teams top of their domestic leagues, it’s the best of Norway and Ireland.

The only team not currently top of their domestic league is Ghent, who face Djurgården. Both have one win and one draw from two matches, which means two wins will qualify this team. This is Djurgården’s first-ever foray into a European group stage, while Ghent are no strangers to autumn football in Europe. They won their Conference League group a year ago.

Groups G, H: Slavia in the hard; Basel looking to book their place early

With three quarter-final appearances in the last four seasons, Slavia Praha would have liked to be in a better position right now. Instead, they struggle to get results. They will face Romanians CFR Cluj, who are yet to win in their opening two group matches. The Czechs are expected to be the favourites, especially as Cluj have struggled in Europe so far this season.

Ballkani takes on Sivasspor in the other pair. The first team from Kosovo to play in a group stage, they have done well so far. The Turkish club must not be complacent as Ballkani has shown he has enough to cause a stir.

In Group H, Basel will have to qualify for Slovan Bratislava. The Slovak champions haven’t been at their best in their opening two matches, failing to win. Basel topped their group a year ago and are on course to do it again. Two more wins should do the trick. Slovan needs at least one win to have any hope.

In what will be two close matches, Zalgiris and Pyunik face off in what is the only pairing this round to feature two debutants in the group stage. Both countries need a result from their respective teams, making the two games even more fascinating. The champions of Armenia have 3 points, their Lithuanian counterparts 2 points behind. While there aren’t any real stars involved here, don’t underestimate the thrill that will come from both matches.

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