With one match left in Group J, here’s how the table stands.
|Team||Goals for||Goals against||Differential||Points|
As you can see, every team could technically still advance, although Fiorentina are almost certain to go through and Liberec are almost certain to fall short. A win or a draw for the Viola will assure them of first place in the group. Unless Qarabag win by 12 goals or more and PAOK wins by 9 or more, the Fiorentina will lock up first place in the group. If both of those unlikely outcomes occur, though, the Viola will be bounced out.
The match will be played on Thursday, 8 December 2016, at 4 PM CST/11 AM EST at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium in Bangu, Azerbaijan. The referee for this one is Croatian Ivan Bebek.
As a draw or loss would open the door to PAOK overtaking his side in the table, expect manage Gurban Gurbanov to field his strongest XI to ensure that Qarabag pick up the valuable prize money that goes with advancing out of the group stages. He and his charges will go into this one feeling confident, as they’ve just overtaken Gabala for the lead in the league. In domestic play, Qarabag are undefeated at home in 6 matches with a differential of +16, so the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium is clearly something of a fortress for them. They were shelled 3-0 in their last Europa fixture, though, away at Slovan Liberec.
Gurbanov switches his shape between a 4-5-1 and a 4-4-2, with the former preferred away or against stronger opposition. The wingers drop deep to protect the fullbacks before springing forward on the break, and the midfielders clog the center of the pitch. He’ll probably instruct his players to pressure high and try to sneak an early goal, then play on the break.
Taking a 4000 km journey is never easy under the best of circumstances. Taking a 4000 km journey just days after a grueling match against Palermo and with a match against Sassuolo the following Sunday is pretty damn difficult. However, after their shocking failure to beat PAOK at the Franchi and wrap up the group, Paulo Sousa has called a full squad for the road trip, including all of his starters. After the 5-0 whipping at the Franchi due to an early red card, he’s probably expecting his opponents to put up considerably more of a fight on their own turf.
Sousa will probably return to the 4-2-3-1 after his experiment with the 3-4-1-2 nearly backfired. Luca Lezzerini is unlikely to return between the sticks, so expect Ciprian Tatarusanu. Expect some heavy squad rotation among the outfield players, perhaps with a few first-choice veterans to keep an eye on things. The only unavailable player is the elusive Hernan Toledo, who’s supposed to be fully recovered from a thigh strain next week.
How to watch
TV: Yeah, no. Not happening.
Online: Here is your list of safe and legal streaming options.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Given the distance and the frigid temperatures hard on the shore of the Caspain Sea (it’ll be right around freezing), let’s call it a 1-2 to the visitors, with goals from Zarate and Babacar for the good guys and a Reynaldo strike for the villains.