Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Tough Europa League ties in prospect for Spanish sides

In contrast to Villarreal’s Champions League draw, Friday’s Europa League draw was not kind on the Spanish participants.

Here is a quick guide to what Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla should expect when the ties get underway next midweek.

Atlético Madrid

Opponents: Vitória de Guimarães

How did they get here? Runners up in 2011 Portuguese Cup; beat Midtjylland of Denmark in third qualifying round.

Star Man: Edgar

Analysis: With Porto utterly dominant in Portugal and indeed in this competition last season a cup final appearance was enough to guarantee Vitória European football for the first time in three seasons.

Vitória would also have been eligible to qualify for the Europa League via their league position, finishing as they did in fifth place. That represented a good first season in charge for Manuel Machado, but given the continued dominance of the big three in Portugal and recent resurgence of Braga it has hard to see Vitoria improving beyond that position much this year.

There is a familiar name for followers of the Premier League in England and Scotland as former Spurs, Portsmouth and Rangers midfielder Pedro Mendes has joined Vitoria after leaving Sporting Lisbon at the end of last season. Like all Portuguese sides there is also a smattering of Brazilians for Atleti to watch out for. Striker Edgar was top scorer last season and will be the man for Gregorio Manzano’s men to watch out for over the next fortnight.

They also don’t boast a great European pedigree with a run to the quarter-finals in the 1986/87 Uea Cup their best performance in a European competition.

Vitoria’s start to the season has been satisfactory if not sensational. Victory over Midtjylland was seen as a necessity and they just managed to overcome that hurdle, coming from behind in the second-leg at home to win the game and the tie 2-1.

The Portuguese side shouldn’t cause Atleti too many problems but Vitoria showed in their 2-1 defeat by Porto in the Portuguese Super Cup this weekend that they are capable of causing problems for more illustrious opponents.

Athletic Bilbao

Opponents: Trabzonspor

How did they get here? Finished second in Turkish Süper Lig; lost to Benfica in third qualifying round of Champions League.

Star Man: Didier Zokora

Analysis: Athletic will be one of the stories everyone across Europe will be following this season. With Marcelo Bielsa at the helm a mixture of joy, intrigue and madness surely awaits.

However, this is a very tricky first step on what will hopefully be a long Europan adventure this season. Turkish football has attracted a number of big names in recent years and although the league was marred by corruption and match fixing allegations, Tranbzonspor’s second-place finish last season shows they are a competent side.

There is also a familiar name for La Liga followers. Didier Zokora ended his two-year stay in Seville with a €5 million move to Istanbul earlier in the summer.

The Turks would have been hoping for Champions League football this term but were defeated by Benfica in the third qualifying round with former Barcelona striker Nolito scoring twice in a 3-1 aggregate win for the Portuguese side.

On paper this will be a tough one for Bielsa’s men, the added disadvantage of the first-leg being at home and coming before Athletic have kicked a ball in competitive action in La Liga only compounding the fact that this was about as tough a draw as they could have faced at this stage.


Opponents: Hannover 96

How did they get here? Finished fourth in Bundesliga last season

Star Man: Didier Konan Ya

Analysis: Sevilla also face a tough first tie as they try to replicate their success in this tournament of 2006 and 2007.

Hannover finished fourth in last season’s Bundesliga and were not far off stunning Bayern Munich by taking third and preventing the Bavarian giants the opportunity to participate in the Champions League in the year in which the final will take place in Munich.

Although such heights are unlikely to be replicated this season they pose a serious threat to Sevilla’s future in this year’s competition. Ivorian striker Didier Konan Ya netted 14 times in the league last term and was linked with a number of Europe’s big clubs – including Bayern – during the summer.

There is also a wealth of experience in the form of Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz and American Steve Cherundolo. Meanwhile, former German international Christian Pander was recruited from Schalke this summer.

Norweigan international forward Mohammed Abdellaoue will also provide a goal-threat and acts as the perfect foil for the pace and strength of Konan Ya.

Sevilla will have the advantage of the second-leg at home but with the Bundesliga already under way Hannover will have the advantage of going into both ties with competitive action under their belt.

First-legs – August 18

Atlético Madrid v Vitória de Guimarães

Athletic Bilbao v Trabzonspor

Hannover v Sevilla

Second-legs – August 25

Vitória de Guimarães v Atlético Madrid

Trabzonspor v Athletic Bilbao

Sevilla v Hannover

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