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5 things to know about the Europa League

5 things to know about the 3rd round of group games in the Europa League

Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend, left celebrates with teammate Kyle Walker after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier L...
Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend, left celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League socce...

Britain Soccer Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend, left celebrates with teammate Kyle Walker after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier L...

Britain Soccer Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur's Andros Townsend, left celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League socce...

Shrugging off the departure of star player Gareth Bale, Tottenham's new-look side could secure qualification to the Europa League's knockout round on Thursday after only three matches in the group stage.

If Tottenham beats FC Sheriff in Moldova and Anzhi Makhachkala draws with Tromso in Group K, the English team will become the first side to advance. Qualification hasn't been achieved at such an early point of the group stage since Sporting did so in the 2010-11 campaign.

Eight other teams, including Sevilla, Fiorentina and Swansea, have also started with two wins from two, and another victory will move them to the brink of the last 32.

Here are five things to know about this week's matches in the Europa League:

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LIMPING LYON

Gone are the days when Lyon dominated French football, winning seven league titles in a row and earning a reputation as one of the teams to avoid in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Once a regular in the quarterfinals of Europe's top competition, Lyon has slipped to 11th place in the French league and has won only once in its past 12 games.

Rather than preparing to take on the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, Lyon finds itself in the grim position of desperately needing to beat Croatian club Rijeka at home in the Europa League to boost morale.

Remi Garde's team has drawn its first two Group I games, against Real Betis and Vitoria Guimaraes, and is far from certain of reaching the last 32.

"It's very difficult, we have to stick together," said Garde, a former Lyon defender. "We need to get some of our experienced players back. People always tend to compare things with what we did before."

Garde is relying on home-grown players, six of whom started in the 1-1 draw with Bordeaux on Sunday. Two more came off the bench in the second half and?the lack of experience was glaring, with Mehdi Zeffane playing in only his second career match and fellow defender Naby Sarr making his debut.

With funds limited, this is likely to continue all season as Lyon needs to sell before it spends.

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LENNON'S CHANCE

With his team cruising along in its group, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is likely to dip into the vast pool of talent in his star-studded squad for the trip to eastern Europe.

That should mean a start for fit-again winger Aaron Lennon, one of the forgotten men of White Hart Lane.

A foot injury sustained in August came at the worst time for Lennon, who saw Andros Townsend take his place on the right wing and immediately become a hit first with Spurs and then England after starring in the country's last two World Cup qualifiers.

Lennon, a fixture in Tottenham's team since joining as an 18-year-old in 2005, could find himself kicking his heels on the bench this season if Townsend's progress continues. He is also fighting with Erik Lamela, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Nacer Chadli for spots out wide in the first team, and can almost wave goodbye his spot in England's World Cup squad for Brazil next year.

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PAOK FANS

PAOK Thessaloniki fans finally can see their team play at home in a European competition this season when Maccabi Haifa visits.

The Greek club has played three Champions League and Europa League home matches in an empty stadium to complete a UEFA punishment because of hooliganism last season.

Fans invaded the pitch during a Europa League playoff against Rapid Vienna, and PAOK was eliminated before serving any of the sanction.

In fact, PAOK should not have completed the ban this season.

PAOK was eliminated in the Champions League third qualifying round by Metalist Kharkiv, but was then reprieved when the Ukrainian club was kicked out over a 2008 match-fixing case. Schalke visited next in the playoff round, and further incidents led to UEFA imposing a fourth stadium closure order.

Last week, PAOK overturned that on appeal and will open the doors Thursday -- albeit under probation to be excluded from the competition if fans cause more trouble.

PAOK also has issues in the dugout. Coach Huub Stevens is serving a three-match touchline ban following the Schalke game in August.

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POTENTIAL POWDER KEGS

Spanish teams Valencia and Real Betis face already-disgruntled fan bases boiling over if they don't win at home against little-known rivals.

Valencia hosts Swiss side St. Gallen while Betis welcomes Portugal's Guimaraes after both lost in the Spanish league last weekend.

The favorite pastime of Valencia's fans is celebrating a win, but in a close second place comes pulling out white handkerchiefs to protest against their team's poor performance in an embarrassing defeat. They have already jeered their players during and after a 3-0 loss to Swansea in the Europa League. Since then, Valencia had turned things around until a 2-1 loss to Real Sociedad at Mestalla Stadium on Saturday.

Betis, meanwhile, had its normally boisterous supporters grumbling on Sunday while watching their side lose 2-1 to 10-man Elche, leaving the Seville-based team one point from the relegation zone in Spain.

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AZ's LONG TRIP

AZ Alkmaar will break a European football record this week -- by making the longest journey to date for any Europa League or Champions League match.

UEFA says the Dutch team will travel 4,400 kilometers to play Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy in Astana in Group L. Shakhter's return trip to the Netherlands on Matchday 4 will be even longer, as Karaganda is 4,600 kilometers from Alkmaar.

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AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and Jerome Pugmire in Paris, and Associated Press writer Joe Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-06 12:58 GMT+08:00