Astana vs Villarreal – Thursday, November 23, 16:00GMT/17:00CET – Astana Arena, Astana.
These are moments of truth for FC Astana. Back in the Kazakh Premier League Astana are just one point ahead of Kairat Almaty. In the Europa League Astana can advance for the first time to a knockout stage of a UEFA competition.
Playing Villarreal on matchday 5 the two teams meet in the knowledge that one of them, or even both, could be celebrating qualification for the knockout phase at the final whistle. Astana have been a force at home in Kazakhstan even against European competition in the Champions League.
Astana are a good side benefiting from financial state sponsorship. Stanimir Stoilov has his team play a cultivated style of football, which is tactically on the highest level. But one main factor for Astana’s success at home is the unusual time difference, the long flight from Central Europe to Central Asia and finally the artificial pitch.
With all this in mind, Astana will be a tough nut to crack for Villarreal. The Spanish side are currently in sixth place in La Liga and have played some fantastic football this year. With this in mind, Villarreal will be the favourites, but top Spanish sides like Atlético Madrid have struggled in Kazakhstan in the past, and it would not be beyond Astana to get a result on Thursday.
Astana vs Villarreal – Player to look out for:
Patrick Twumasi #23 – Astana
Together with Junior Kabananga Patrick Twumasi is Astana’s most dangerous forward. Ranked second behind Kabananga on Astana’s scoring chart with 11 goals and six assists in 26 Kazak Premier League games Twumasi has been a prolific player this year. Playing off the left of Kabananga Twumasi often interchanges positions with his forward partner giving Astana a dangerous one-two-punch up front. Twumasi’s success has, however, been noted abroad and the forward has been linked with a move to VfB Stuttgart.
Cédric Bakambu #17 – Villarreal
Cédric Bakambu is Villarreal’s top striker this season. The Congolese forward has scored eight goals in eleven games this season. Signed from Bursaspor two seasons ago Bakambu is a typical breaker up front, who will be the key man for Villarreal.
Astana vs Villarreal – Match Stats
- Villarreal will book their place with a game to spare if they win, whereas a draw will be sufficient should Slavia Praha not win the other group fixture away to Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
- Astana would also go through if they win and Slavia do not; a Slavia defeat combined with an Astana win would enable both Astana and Villarreal to clinch their places in the round of 32.
- Villarreal opened their sixth UEFA Europa League group campaign with a 3-1 win at home to Astana, two late goals from Cédric Bakambu and Dmitri Cheryshev giving the Spanish club the points after Astana defender Yuri Logvinenko had equalised Nicola Sansone’s first-half strike.
- The teams had previously met in the 2014-15 UEFA Europa League play-offs, Marcelino’s Villarreal winning 3-0 against Stanimir Stoilov’s men in Astana and 4-0 in Spain.
- That home defeat is the heaviest in Astana’s European history.
- Astana are unbeaten in 17 European home games (W9 D8) since that record 3-0 loss to Villarreal in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League play-offs.
Prediction: Astana vs Villarreal – 1-1
Astana vs Villarreal – Possible Lineups
Eric – Shomko, Anicic, Postnikov, Shitov – Maevskiy, Grahovac – Murtazayev, Muzhkov, Twumasi – Kabananga
Coach: Stanimir Stoilov
Barbosa – Costa, Ruiz, Bonera, Gaspar – Trigueros, Fornales, Hernandez, Soriano – Bakambu, Bacca
Coach: Javier Calleja
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.