Krasnodar vs Standard Liege – Thursday, November 8, 17:55 GMT/18:55CET/20:55 MSK – Stadion Krasnodar, Krasnodar
In theory, everything is rosy in Krasnodar’s garden. They have coped with losing their star player of the last three years by welcoming Ari back from his loan at Lokomotiv Moscow and promoting Ivan Ignatyev to the senior squad. As things stand they are in the Champions League places in their domestic league, where they are the top goalscorers. A barnstorming comeback win over Sevilla boosted confidence, and even though they lost to Standard Liege last time out in this competition it was to a last-gasp goal.
However, such is the tight nature of Group J at the halfway stage that there is serious pressure on them to secure a precious three points this week. Level on points with the visitors and Sevilla, they know that a slip up now would put them at serious risk of missing out on progression from the group stage for the first time since their debut in the Europa League four years ago. Having two consecutive home matches is a major advantage, however, and with pointless Akhisar still, to come to southern Russia they could even secure a top-two finish before matchday six.
The prison sentence of Pavel Mamaev has not disrupted the momentum of Murad Musaev’s enterprising side. His guile in midfield is invaluable on paper, but in truth, he had only recently regained any sort of form before his arrest for assault a few weeks ago. Cristian Cueva is still yet to truly stamp his authority on the starting XI, so there is international experience to call upon if needed. With so many domestic rivals floundering desperately, there is less concern about juggling two campaigns.
Standard Liege meanwhile are struggling in their homeland, despite keeping pace with their Russian counterparts and serial Europa League champions Sevilla. The Belgian Pro League works on a playoff basis at the end of the regular season, with the top six all in with a shout at qualifying for Europe. Standard, however, have failed to win any of their last four matches and have slipped out of the crucial top-six zone. Maxime Lestienne returned from injury last month to boost attacking options, but it is debatable how much they will be able to sustain focus on two fronts.
The European heritage of the Belgians is one that deserves to be respected by its modern-day squad. Their 1981 European Cup Winners’ Cup final defeat to Barcelona isn’t in itself an awe-inspiring achievement, but the names connected to the club hold considerable weight. The legendary Austrian manager Ernst Happel – the first man to win the European Cup with two different clubs – laid the foundations for that ‘81 final during his two-year spell in Liege that directly preceded it.
There was a time when the club mixed it with the very best, even if continental silverware has eluded them. In the 1960s they were beaten at the semi-finals of the European Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup to eventual champions Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Against those same clubs now there would be less than no hope of earning a result. Although Krasnodar have a fraction of the history or reputation of those stellar names, their packed stadium is hardly the most ideal venue to turn their season around. Maxime Lestienne has an extra point to prove on his return to Russia on top of his team’s challenge and could be that spark they need.
Krasnodar vs Standard Liege – Players to Watch
Ari #9 – Krasnodar
Despite missing almost half the season through suspension and injury, Brazilian-born Ari is on absolute fire in domestic football. Behind only Russian international call-up Fedor Chalov in the goalscoring stakes, he has scored seven in his last six in all competitions, including against Standard Liege in Belgium. His physicality is always a real handful and will make him a safer option than thrilling youth system graduate Ivan Ignatyev at this crucial stage of the group. His instinctive positioning on the shoulder of defenders will also help apply pressure high up.
Maxime Lestienne #22 – Standard Liege
The former Rubin Kazan winger left Russia under a cloud after a dreadful spell blighted by injury, poor form and alleged drunkenness at training. His expensive arrival signalled a period of gross overspending by the Tatarstan club that has cost them with FFP punishment, but what cannot be disputed is the direct pace and lethal threat Lestienne carries when on form. Since returning from injury just in time to come off the bench in Belgium, he has scored and reclaimed the left wing spot as his own. In a group of such fine margins, his game-changing pace and dribbling will be a major outlet.
Krasnodar vs Standard Liege – Match Stats
- Although Krasnodar have won their last three matches in the competition, they have conceded six in the last four home games
- They have scored in all but one of their 10 Europa League group stage home matches
- They have also recorded just one clean sheet in the last eight home games in the competition
- Standard Liege have lost all three matches played in Russia without scoring
- The Belgian side have won just once in 10 Europa League group stage away matches
- Since beating Krasnodar in added time two weeks ago, they have conceded six goals in three winless games
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Krasnodar vs Standard Liege – 2-0
Krasnodar vs Standard Liege – Possible Lineups
Kritsyuk – Stotskiy, Martynovich, Spajic, Ramirez – Gazinskiy, Kabore, Pereyra – Wanderson, Ari, Claesson
Manager: Murad Musaev
Ochoa – Fai, Luyindama, Lafis, Cavanda – Cimerot, Marin – Lestienne, Djenepo, Carcela-Gonzalez – Edmond
Manager: Michel Preud’homme
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.