Friday, 27 August 2010

Juventus, Lech Poznań and Salzburg

We're in Group A, and it's a decent draw. I suppose we've got what I wanted: the glamour tie and then two slightly less worrying opponents. Juventus are surely the most prestigious opponents we've had in Europe since we beat Milan in the third round of the 1978/79 UEFA Cup. But then our other two opponents are national champions so they won't be quite as accommodating as Timişoara.

Juventus This is a nice treat so early in this year's competition. Two years ago we got to the quarter-final without ever really playing one of Europe's elite. Twente, Paris St. Germain, Schalke and Hamburg are all of some profile but they're not quite from Juve's bracket. So this the biggest club we've hosted competitively (United and Liverpool aside, obviously) for over thirty years.

We also have the chance to avenge our defeat in the first round of the 1976-77 UEFA Cup, when current Assistant Manager Brian Kidd put us 1-0 at Maine Road before we lost 2-0 in Turin. I'm not sure how heavily this will press on the players' minds this time around. We have a few tenuous connections with Juve. Two of our coaches, Attilio Lombardo and David Platt, enjoyed brief playing spells there. So did Patrick Vieira, who isn't technically on the coaching staff but might as well be. My sympathies have always been with Torino.

They have just undergone yet another transitional summer (sound familiar?), but they could well be effective this year. Their new coach is Gigi Delneri, who took Sampdoria to fourth last year. This summer they've brought in Simone Pepe, Alberto Aquilani plus three former MCFC transfer targets: Marco Motta, Leonardo Bonucci and Miloš Krasić, with Fabio Quagliarella possibly still to come. They will be useful.

Red Bull Salzburg Like Lech Poznań they are domestic champions and so should not be sniffed at. (They could be sniffed at, though, for changing their name at the behest of an energy drink company.) Seriously, though, if you think that Sheikh Mansour and Garry Cook have no regard for history then just take a look at these guys; it's real MK Dons stuff. But since they were annexed by Red Bull (and SV Austria Salzburg were essentially disappropriated) they've been quite successful: three Austrian Bundesliga titles in the last four years.

Their European journey this year started in the Champions League second qualifying round, where they beat HB Tórshavn of the Faeroe Islands 5-1 on aggregate. Then in the third qualifying round they beat Omonia - vanquished by Jô two years ago - 5-2. In the play-off they faced Hapoel Tel Aviv and were probably fancied, but they lost 3-2 at home and drew 1-1 in Israel: hence their demotion. They play in the 'Red Bull Arena', which, when known as the EM Stadion Wals-Siezenheim hosted three Group D ties in Euro 2008, but only the Spain game for which David Silva was rested.

Lech Poznań They won the Polish league last year for the first time in seventeen years. I'm afraid I don't know much about them other than what I can pick up from Wikipedia. As far as I know I can't think of any connections we have with them, through players or previous ties. Their stadium is currently being redeveloped for the purposes of Euro 2012, but I don't know what state it will be in for our visit. Like Red Bull Salzburg they come to the Europa League having failed in the Champions League qualifiers. In the second qualifying round they needed six rounds of sudden death penalties to overcome Inter Baku of Azerbaijan. Next up was Sparta Prague but they lost both legs 1-0.

I suppose we ought to qualify, with the players we have. But it won't be easy. Here are the fixtures.

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