Freiburg v Olympiacos
Christian Streich’s Freiburg will look to maintain their impressive 100% record in Europe this season when they host Greek side Olympiacos on Thursday. The Breisgauer’s place in the next round is already assured after four successive wins, but the motivation to win all their group fixtures is there and they have a very good chance against a struggling Athens side who are bottom of group G with just one point.
The reverse fixture in Piraeus saw Freiburg come away with a 3-0 win and after a 2-1 win at the weekend over Werder Bremen saw them cement their place in the Bundesliga top four, confidence will be high.
The Greeks on the other hand are fourth in their Super League but a full ten points behind rivals Panathinaikos. They did win 2-0 away at Panetolikos at the weekend, but the trip to Germany will provide a much tougher test for Spaniard Michel and his underperforming, star-studded team. A starting XI that could contain James Rodriguez, Mathieu Valbuena, Yann M’Vila, and Cedric Bakambu looks better on paper than results suggest.
Player to watch:
With the World Cup coming up, the image of Colombian James Rodriguez’s wonder strike against Uruguay in the 2014 finals will be in many people’s minds and replayed countless times on TV in the coming weeks. Having joined the Greek side in September on a free transfer from Al-Rayyan (yes exactly!) he is still looking to recreate his former glory.
Union Berlin v Braga
Union know that they will at least have Conference League football after the winter break, but it is still in their hands to make it out of the group and progress in the Europa League. Two opening defeats didn’t match their stunning Bundesliga form, but they have now found their feet and will want to take all three points from the visit of Braga.
The Portuguese side beat them 1-0 at the Estádio Municipal, but successive wins over Swedish side Malmö have given die Eisernen confidence. A second Bundesliga defeat of the season to bottom side VfL Bochum was not the ideal preparation for the midweek clash.
Braga, on seven points, are one ahead of Union so this match could determine the course of events after the winter break. A 2-0 away win at Estoril at the weekend see them second in the league but six points behind leaders Benfica.
Player to watch:
French striker Simon Banza has five league goals so far but is yet to score in Europe- something his coach Artur Jorge would love to see change at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei this week.
Slovácko v Köln
Successive losses to Partizan mean that Köln still have a lot to do to make it out of the group and onto the next stage. They currently have four points along with Slovácko with Nice on five. They play the French side in their final group game.
Unlike Union Berlin, Steffen Baumgart has opted to rotate his squad in Europe, but expect to see strong line-ups in the final two matches as the Billy Goats look to progress. A 5-0 hammering at Mainz on Friday wasn’t the ideal way to prepare for a European trip. Slovácko beat Teplice at the weekend in the Gambrinus League but find themselves tenth in the current table.
The reverse fixture in the Domstadt on matchday saw the home side win 4-2 but only after the Czechs had fought back from 2-0 down. A double from Dejan Ljubicic sealed the win. Sadly, for Köln he’s out injured so there will be no repeat performance.
Player to watch: Midfielder Jan Kalabiška has scored three of Slovacko’s seven goals in the Conference League and will have watched on with glee at what happened at the Mewa Arena on Friday as Mainz took advantage of the Köln defence.