Man Utd's youth side is out in Kazakhstan while under-pressure Arsenal suddenly need a big performance. Paul Higham previews Thursday's Europa League.
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Sporting Braga v Wolves (5.55pm GMT BT Sport 2)
Braga beat Wolves at Molineux and, if that was a surprise then, their form since has made that a more believable achievement as they're the unbeaten leaders of this group and in fact have gone 11 Europa League games without defeat.
Nuno Espirito Santo's side seem to be getting to grips with the tournament now though having reeled off three straight wins since, and they dominated for large parts of that 1-0 defeat by Braga last time out and are well capable of correcting that this time around.
Braga have scored a few, but let in a few as well - keeping just three clean sheets at home all season, and this Wolves side now, Raul Jimenez especially, are showing a new clinical edge to back-up their defensive stability.
There's also the old case of levels - Braga have been decent in this competition but even in the Portuguese league they've won just four of 11 and have lost to Sporting and Benfica - two sides you'd equate to being near Wolves' level.
They've made winning by the odd goal an art form and Jimenez has bagged the crucial goal in their last four wins. The bold among us could point to a Wolves win/Jimenez goal double, but at the price for just an away win we're going to keep things simple.
Best bet: Wolves to beat Braga at 2/1
Sporting Braga v Wolves Opta stats
- Sporting Braga have won four of their last five home games against English sides in all competitions, though they did lose their most recent such match 1-3 against Man Utd in November 2012.
- Wolves lost the reverse fixture 0-1 against Braga on MD1 in what was the first ever meeting between the sides.
- Braga are unbeaten in the Europa League so far this season (W3 D1). It’s the first time they’ve remained without defeat in their first four group stage games in the competition.
- Wolves have won their last three matches in the Europa League, with two of those victories coming virtue of a stoppage-time winner.
- Raúl Jiménez has scored in his last two Europa League games, and could become just the second Wolves player to score in three consecutive games in major European competition (excluding qualifiers) after Derek Dougan (four in the 1971-72 UEFA Cup).
Arsenal v Eintracht Frankfurt (8pm GMT BT Sport 2)
The pressure has really increased on Unai Emery after that draw with Southampton and he'd probably rather not face his home crowd at the Emirates again after going odds-on to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked after a wave of money on him to leave.
Our Sporting Life columnist Charlie Nicholas says that "the fans will decide" Emery's future with the club seemingly not too keen on changing managers just yet, so despite Arsenal being all-but through in this competition, the performance becomes all the more important as Emery needs to keep the fans on side.
That mightn't be so easy against a handy Frankfurt side who made the semi-final last season and, although erratic this term, have a decent away record in this competition (W10 D3 L4) and will be more than capable of praying on any nerves in that suspect Arsenal back line.
For all their problems, Arsenal have managed not to lose yet and beat the German side comfortably in the reverse fixture.
Arsenal v Eintracht Frankfurt Opta stats
- Arsenal won the reverse fixture against Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 on MD1, in what was the first ever meeting between the sides.
- Eintracht Frankfurt have won just one of their six away games against English opponents, with that victory coming back in 1967 against Burnley in the Fairs Cup (2-1).
- Arsenal have lost more European home games against German sides than they have against opponents from any other nation (6).
- If Arsenal avoid defeat, it would see them progress past the first group stages of a Champions League/Europa League campaign for the 20th consecutive season, with the Gunners last failing to do so in the 1999-00 Champions League.
- Eintracht Frankfurt have lost two of their four Europa League games this season (W2), more than they had in their previous 18 in the competition (W11 D6 L1).
Astana v Manchester United (3.50 GMT - BT Sport 2)
An early start to proceedings on Thursday as a youthful Manchester United squad resembling a school field trip will travel to the Kazakhstan capital.
United probably wish they could just skip this game given they're already through, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not messed around with his squad selection - taking a virtual youth team on the 6,000-mile round trip to Kazakhstan. The likes of Lee Grant, Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe and Jesse Lingard make up the senior contingent.
As many as ten players could make their first-team debuts, ones they'll never forget! And Solskjaer hasn't even taken all of his coaching staff with him as several have remained in Manchester to prepare the senior players for their far more important Premier League game with Aston Villa at the weekend.
Mason Greenwood is a teenager we all know about - he's been crucial in their Europa League campaign so far with two of their five goals including the winner against Astana in the reverse fixture - and he should spearhead the attack in this new-look United side.
Astana have yet to win a point in the group, and have scored just once while United are yet to concede in the competition. When you consider the hugely inexperienced United team, the fact Astana are already out, and that they play on an artificial pitch just for good measure, there are too many unknowns for a huge investment. You suspect both sides just want the game done.
Best bet: Under 2.5 goals at Evens
FC Astana v Manchester United Opta stats
- Man Utd’s 1-0 win against FC Astana on MD1 was the first ever meeting between an English side and a Kazakh side in all European competition.
- Manchester United are yet to concede a goal in the Europa League this season – no side has ever kept a clean sheet in each of their opening five group stage games in a campaign in the competition.
- FC Astana have lost their last six Europa League games by an aggregate score of 1-17. Only Dudelange (15) have conceded more goals in this season’s competition than Astana (14).
- Manchester United have managed just one shot on target across their two away games in the Europa League this season, with that effort coming from the penalty spot against FK Partizan.
- 18-year-old Mason Greenwood has been involved in 60% of Manchester United’s five goals in the Europa League this season (2 goals, 1 assist).
Europa League fixtures
- AZ v Partizan Belgrade
- Besiktas v Slovan Bratislava
- CSKA Moscow v Ludogorets Razgrad
- Ferencvárosi TC v Espanyol
- Feyenoord v Rangers
- Istanbul Basaksehir v Roma
- OleksandriavVfL v Wolfsburg
- RZ Pellets WAC v Borussia Mönchengladbach
- Sporting Braga v Wolves
- St Etienne v KAA Gent
- Young Boys v FC Porto
Odds correct as of 1336 GMT on 27/11/19
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