What to watch out for in the UEFA Europa League
Mourinho back in the mix
A lively atmosphere is a given in Rotterdam, but the dial might be turned up a little further for this Group A opener as United embark on their first UEFA Europa League group stage campaign. The home side will look to unsettle José Mourinho in his first game in this competition since he won the 2003 UEFA Cup with Porto, though the Portuguese coach should be up to the challenge. Meanwhile, if Zlatan Ibrahimović plays, it will be his first UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League outing since 2001, when he was with Feyenoord’s rivals Ajax.
Feyenoord v United, 18:00CEST
Can Balotelli cut it at Nice?
“We know the risk but we are taking it happily,” explained Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivère after signing striker Mario Balotelli following the Italian’s miserable two-year spell at Liverpool. The 26-year-old sparkled in early training sessions at Nice and has a great opportunity to prove he can cut it with the best against the Royal Blues. However, he could have competition for attention; stuck on 49 for some time, Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is eager to become only the 14th player to reach 50 goals in UEFA club competition.
Nice v Schalke, 20:05CEST
Osmanlıspor’s unbeatable boss
The Turkish group stage debutants are not new to Europe – they previously competed as Ankaraspor – and Steaua will certainly recognise a few faces in their squad, not least striker Raul Rusescu, who bagged 34 goals in 65 league matches for the Romanians from 2011–13 and returned for a one-year loan in 2014/15. Former PSV midfielder Adam Maher and one-time Fenerbahçe marksman Pierre Webó might also be a threat for a team coached by Mustafa Reşit Akçay, who incredibly has yet to lose in 18 UEFA club competition fixtures.
Osmanlıspor v Steaua, 20:05CEST
Big step up for Sassuolo
Along with Konyaspor, Sassuolo are the only side in the group stage making their European debut this season, and Eusebio Di Francesco’s men are faring well having come through qualifying unbeaten – winning both home games 3-0. However, Athletic boast last term’s UEFA Europa League top marksman Aritz Aduriz and, in Ernesto Valverde, a coach with immense experience in this tournament. “We just have to focus on ourselves, knowing we are doing something exciting and historic,” said Di Francesco.
Sassuolo v Athletic, 18:00CEST
Lucescu’s Zenit baptism
In terms of coaching experience, Mircea Lucescu is in a field of his own as he gears up for his 215th UEFA club competition match. However, the 71-year-old Romanian is not afraid to try something new, having ended a 12-year stint at Shakhtar Donetsk to take command at Zenit. ‘Mister’ lifted the 2009 UEFA Cup with the Pitmen – the year after Zenit won the competition – and knows his new club are thinking big. “I know about the team’s potential, its supporters, Zenit’s style of play and their European ambitions,” Lucescu said.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv v Zenit, 18:00CEST
Party time at Mainz
Mainz is famous in Germany for its annual week-long Carnival – which kicks off on 11 November – but the Karivalclub (Carnival Club) are aiming to start the party early after making it to a UEFA group stage for the first time. They open up against St-Étienne – opponents they held 1-1 in a 2015 friendly – and sporting director Rouven Schröder knows they are well matched: “They have a lot of good young players, and are very aggressive and very strong at home, so you could say they are a little bit like Mainz.”
Mainz v St-Étienne, 18:00CEST