English trio on brink of Europa last-32 spots
PARIS (AFP) –
Premier League trio Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle will be aiming to secure passage to the Europa League knockout stages with a game in hand on Thursday.
While the English clubs have had modest starts to their domestic campaign and are all in unfamiliar mid-table positions, their fortunes have been brighter in continental action as they close in on the last-32.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has finally put the Anfield giants on the right track after a disastrous start to the season and a win at home against Swiss hopefuls Young Boys will guarantee the club their ongoing quest for a first European trophy since their famous Champions League win over AC Milan in 2005.
Tottenham face a sterner test of their pedigree as they travel to the Olympic stadium in Rome and a tie against unbeaten Lazio.
A win in the Italian capital and failure for Slovenian club Maribor to beat Panathinaikos in Athens will also put under-pressure manager Andre Villa-Boas and his North London side into the next round.
Villa-Boas handed French number one Hugo Lloris only his second league start of the season last weekend but the former Nice and Lyon custodian shipped five goals in the 5-2 defeat at bitter rivals Arsenal as he lost ground in his battle to dislodge American Brad Friedel from the starting job.
While Lloris has played almost all of his matches in Cup competitions, it is likely Friedel will be between the posts for what could decide the fate of Group J.
Newcastle United who won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup back in 1969 before the competition became the UEFA Cup in 1971 and currently the Europa League, have a chance to revive their form at St. James’ Park where they have lost consecutive league matches against West Ham and Swansea.
Manager Alan Pardew will likely rotate his squad despite the club’s struggles but the bookmakers will still make them strong favourites against Portugal’s Maritimo Funchal and victory will guarantee qualification from Group D.
High-flying Bordeaux, whose closest attempt to a continental trophy was when they lost the 1996 UEFA Cup final against a Bayern Munich side coached by Franz Beckenbauer, will also advance from the group with victory at Belgium’s Club Brugge.
Defending champions Atletico Madrid who saw their record 16-game winning streak snapped at Portuguese club Academica de Coimbra on matchday four will continue their quest for a repeat triumph at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Academica are five points behind the European Supercup winners as well as Viktoria Plzen and must beat the Czech side at home to have any chance of keeping alive their hopes going into the final round of matches.
Fernerbache are five points clear of Marseille and Borussia Monchengladbach but defeat at the Velodrome and a win for the German giants at home to AEL Limassol of Cyprus will make for a nervous final day when the Istanbul-based club host the former Bundesliga champions.
Bordeaux coach Francis Gillot will be able to field English midfielder Joey Barton who continues to serve his 12-match domestic ban and the on-loan QPR signing scored his first goal directly from a corner during the 2-2 against Monchengladbach last time out.
Steaua Bucharest who became the first and only Eastern European team to win the European Cup when they triumphed over Barcelona on penalties in 1986 are in control of Group E with ten points and can advance even if they lose at home to Stuttgart who are five points back.
If FC Copenhagen – who are on four points – fail to win in Sweden at Molde FK, the Romanian giants will still qualify in case of defeat.
Lyon, Inter Milan, Rubin Kazan, Bayer Leverkusen, Metalist Kharkiv and Hannover have already qualified.