Thursday night sees the second round of the Europa League group stages, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle all in action in tough games. With domestic fixtures this weekend in the back of the respective managers’ minds, the outcome of Europa League matches featuring the Premier League teams will be influenced by team selection, with all three bosses placing varying levels of importance on the competition.
Liverpool opened their European campaign by sending a second-string side to Switzerland to take on Young Boys. The squad, comprising fringe figures and young prospects, were triumphant 5-3, and the Reds will look to continue this momentum against Udinese on Thursday.
The Serie A side may well have lost some of their best players to bigger clubs in the transfer window, but Francesco Guidolin’s men are still a difficult opponent. Brendan Rodgers’ outlook that the Premier League is number one priority may see a squad rotation system adopted, but the Anfield hosts must be careful not to weaken their starting XI too much or risk defeat.
Newcastle United host Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux in their second game in the tournament, and although Alan Pardew has stated that his men are taking the competition seriously, a number of big names in the Toon side will be rested. A stale 0-0 draw against Maritimo in Portugal in their first game was a so-so result, but Thursday’s French opponents will be a step-up for the Tynesiders. Papiss Cisse is expected to lead the line for the Sports Direct Arena outfit, and the Senegalese marksman is in need of goals to build confidence.
Finally, Tottenham travel to Greece to take on seasoned European competitors Panathinaikos. Contrary to the other two Premier League participants, the north London club are ready to assault the competition in search of progression and the latter stages. Andre Villas-Boas has tasted success in the tournament in 2011 with Porto, and has pledged to field his strongest possible side in all group games.
After a 0-0 draw with Lazio at home in the first round and tricky opponents in the form of Maribor also to play, Spurs will hope to pick up points here. The Greek crowd will make it hostile for the Premier League visitors, but Villas-Boas’ men should be buoyed on by their 3-2 win over Manchester United in their last game.
All three teams’ chances of picking up a win will largely depend on team selection; Spurs will play to win, whilst Newcastle and Liverpool may well have one eye on upcoming weekend Premier League games.