Saturday, August 28, 2010

Europa League Fixtures Announced

The fixtures for the Europa League group stage have been announced, and appear below. They should also be televised on ESPN in Australia, but as always, check local guides.

Red Bull Salzburg v Manchester City
Thursday 16 September 7pm CET/ Friday 17 September 3am

Manchester City v Juventus
Friday 1 October 5am

Manchester City v Lech Poznan
Friday 22 October 6am

Lech Poznan v Manchester City
Friday 5 November 5am

Manchester City v Red Bull Salzburg
Friday 2 December 5am

Juventus v Manchester City
Friday 17 December 5am

There are a couple of things you want in a Europa League draw.

To minimise disruption, you want to be playing teams this side of the Iron Curtain. An away day to Germany or Italy seems a much easier prospect than travelling to some barren, bleak and windswept outpost on the edge of Europe to beat a mob of Ukrainian plumbers or Latvian milkmen.

Secondly, you want the big names. Not big names as in Borussia Monchengladbach, but names with a little bit of history. Teams that most people with a passing interest in football could identify. Unlike the Champions League, where almost every participant is a big club (Rangers and Tottenham being the obvious exceptions), the Europa League throws up some fairly "exotic" fixtures. There will understandably be a larger crowd and a better atmosphere when we host Juventus, than if we were to play say Karpaty Lviv, Levski Sofia, or Bronski Beat.

[UPDATES from Gav - A key attraction of European competition for fans has to be the opportunity to go and watch City play in somewhere more exotic than Grimsby, ideally after imbibing a healthy volume of hard-to-pronounce lager and struggling to decipher a menu resulting in you ordering 'pigs trotter with beetroot' for desert. If this sounds like your version of a European away day, you're in luck.]

Using this criteria, we have a somewhat favourable draw.

Red Bull Salzberg (or FC Salzberg as they're known in this competition) are not to be underestimated. They are the reigning champions of the Austrian Bundesliga, and drop down to Europa League after losing their Champions League qualifier to Hapoel Tel-Aviv. [They also have an artificial pitch to contend with - expect City to have a practice game at Woodley Sports beforehand, as the England squad did before playing on artificial pitches] We have to be careful of their wide play — I've heard they are good down the wings... you know, 'cos it gives you wings... is this thing on?

[Taxi for Crouchy! Salzberg is one of the best places to watch football. It's a great city, top nightlife, and the Red Bull Arena has an atmosphere not to be missed. At night games it more resembles a basketball stadium, with the lights dimmed, searchlights scanning the crowd and pitch, flashing lights and music pumping out, even during breaks in play, from memory! One not to be missed if you can get there - flights are with Jet2 from Leeds or you can fly to Munich from Manchester. Local brew is the fantastich Steigl.]

Juventus, whilst not the powerhouse of European football they once were, will still throw up a stern test. 27-time Serie A champions, and twice European Cup winners, they definitely fall into the category of "big name". Outside of Atletico Madrid (and I guess, City) they are one of the biggest threats in this early stage of the Europa League.

[A hard away fixture to resist for European football-starved City fans. Turin isn't the most attractive city in Italy, but it does have the advantage of being within 40 mins of superb skiing. Given that the fixture is on the 17th December, it makes this away trip much more appealing. No direct flights, but from Luton, or Manchester-Madrid. Beer is likely to be the Peroni/Morretti kind of average stuff.]

Lech Poznan are from Poland and apparently play football. They failed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, losing to Sparta Praha. That's about it.

[Another good away trip. If you don't mind unfashionable, dodgy people in shell suits with a completely impenetrable language making even getting directions without getting spotted as an outsider and mugged a difficult task then you can brave the trip to Liverpool (see what I did there?) and then fly to Poznan with Ryanair. In Poznan you'll find a great little city, lots of bars in the old town from what I can remember, and in ┼╗ywiec or Okocim some of the best beer you're ever likely to drink anywhere in the world. I didn't get to a game when I was there, but the locals were the kind of crazy-friendly set, and loved their football.]

Whilst we should have no problem advancing to the knockout stages of the tournament, the real test comes when the Champions League rejects drop down into the competition and beat the pants off everybody.

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