Everton and Tottenham face stiff challenges in Thursday’s Europa League action when the Toffees travel to Southern Russia to face FC Krasnodar and Spurs host Besiktas.
Everton sit atop Group H on three points after dismantling Wolfsburg 4-1 in the group stage opener at Goodison Park. That night saw the Toffees flying high with goals from Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas while also benefitting from a Ricardo Rodriguez own-goal, which the Swiss left-back then made up for with a consolation free-kick at the death.
In fairness to Wolfsburg, the scoreline was flattering. Everton played well and were clinical in front of net but also received a gargantuan effort from Tim Howard, who stood on his head in the second half. To expect such a walk-through against Krasnodar on Thursday would be a mistake, and one the Toffees could pay dearly for.
The Russian side did not exist until 2008 but since then has steadily climbed up the ranks of the Russian league. The club is the brainchild of retail billionaire Sergey Galitsky but unlike many compatriots before him – Roman Abramovich at Chelsea and Suleyman Kerimov at Anzhi Makachkala – his money has been put to use in the youth system rather than the transfer market. As a result, Krasnodar is known as a club that plays quality football that’s pleasing to the fans.
In their first group stage match Krasnodar eked out a shock draw at Lille after taking the lead through a goal from Ricardo Laborde. They are known to be particularly difficult at home where they’ve won all three of their UEFA home games to date, scoring 11 goals and conceding none. Combine that with the fact that Everton will be without Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and (possibly) Seamus Coleman, and escaping Russia with a point could be a solid result.
For Tottenham, the opening match of the group stage went according to plan, all things considered. The 0-0 draw with Partizan Belgrade was an action-packed match with a largely secondary squad after Mauricio Pochettino decided to leave Danny Rose, Emmanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul, Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli home due to prior racial abuse suffered by Rose. Spurs played well, however, and could have won the match had Harry Kane not been denied by the bar 60 seconds into the match.
Besiktas will be equally keen on taking the points Thursday after their opening match against Asteras Tripolis ended in a 1-1 draw due to Facundo Parra’s 88th minute volley leveling the match in Turkey. Familiar faces on hand at White Hart Lane include former Chelsea/Newcastle/West Ham striker Demba Ba as well as Kerim Koyunlu, who was known as Kerim Frei when he played for Fulham. The Turks will prove a strong test for Spurs but this is a match where the English side will be disappointed with anything other than all three points.
Other Matches of Note
FC Zurich v. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Villarreal v. Apollon Limassol
Celtic v. Dinamo Zagreb
Dinamo Moscow v. PSV
Inter Milan v. FK Qarabag
Dynamo Kiev v. Steaua Bucharest
Dinamo Minsk v. Fiorentina