Spartak Moscow vs Maribor – Tuesday, November 21, 17:00 GMT/18:00 CET, Otkritie Arena, Moscow
Statistics can be somewhat misleading, especially when it comes to Spartak Moscow. They are currently ranked 113th by UEFA, an almost 40 places below their Champions League opponents Maribor, and yet they enter this group stage clash as overwhelming favourites. Domestically they are one game from equalling their longest unbeaten run in the league for over a decade and yet have only just squeezed into the Champions League places having fielded speculation over manager Massimo Carrera’s future a matter of weeks ago.
Their last outing was a sensational 4-1 thrashing of third-placed Krasnodar away to leapfrog the Bulls. All three main attackers – Quincy Promes, Luiz Adriano and Ze Luis – scored, while Roman Zobnin was handed his long-awaited return to action as a half-time substitute, with the latter in strong contention to earn more minutes against arguably the weakest opponents left on their schedule this side of the winter break.
Denis Glushakov is a minor doubt after he limped off gingerly following a clip of the ankles, but with Zobnin’s return and Ivelin Popov waiting on the sidelines, his possible absence won’t cause any great alarm for Carrera. Within the context of the group itself, this is the definition of a must-win game for Spartak; coupled with Liverpool avoiding defeat away to Sevilla; three points would put them in second place going into the final round of matches.
Maribor have only the faintest of hopes of remaining in Europe in the second half of the season, lying four points adrift of Spartak at the foot of the group, so a win in Moscow is essential. They are themselves riding the crest of a domestic wave though, having defeated nearest challengers Olimpia Ljubljana at the weekend to extend their unbeaten league run to 18 matches. The fact that third-placed NK Rudar Velenje have accumulated 17 fewer points fewer than Maribor in just 16 rounds this season demonstrates the weakness of the Slovenian league, however.
Despite the almost mathematically-impossible task ahead of Maribor to reach the knockout stages, Slovenian media have voiced cautious hopes of qualification if an unlikely win can be engineered at the Otkritie. Such optimism, however faint it may be, should act a minor warning bell for the hosts – it was, after all, against Spartak themselves that Maribor claimed their only points of this Europa League campaign in the opening round of matches.
Brazilian striker Marcos Tavares is highly likely to lead the line for the visitors, as he did in the 1-1 draw back in September, especially after his matchwinner at the weekend gave the team a morale boost coming into this fixture. At 33 years of age, he is unlikely to cause Serdar Tasci or Georgi Dzhikia a great deal of trouble for pace, but it is the space he creates for the supporting cavalry that may be an area to watch out for. Director of football Zlatko Zahovic was an intelligent playmaker for Porto around the turn of the century; his club will need all the craft and guile they can muster.
Spartak Moscow vs Maribor – Players to Watch
Lorenzo Melgarejo #25 – Spartak Moscow
The Paraguayan winger has endured a torrid time in Moscow since his move from Kuban Krasnodar, but Carrera has used him to reasonable effect when he has wanted or needed to rotate his team. With Jano Ananidze, Denis Glushakov and fellow winger Aleksandr Samedov all out injured, not to mention the huge clash against Zenit St Petersburg coming up at the weekend, it is the ideal time for Melgarejo to inject some pace and trickery into Spartak’s attack. Forwards Ze Luis and Luiz Adriano are on form but expect to see a spark from Melgarejo to break the deadlock.
Marcos Tavares #9 – Maribor
The Brazilian frontman has one of the most thankless tasks as the spearhead of an attack that has garnered just one goal in the four groups stage matches so far this season. In the qualifiers, though it was Tavares who Maribor turned to, as their captain scored four goals across all three rounds to drag his side into the groups. In January, the club’s all-time top goalscorer will complete a decade at the club, but his composure under pressure is precisely the quality that Maribor will need.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Spartak Moscow vs Maribor 3-0
Spartak Moscow vs Maribor – Match Stats
- Maribor are currently ranked 65th by UEFA, a full 38 places above Spartak Moscow
- Spartak are looking to progress to beyond the group stage for the first time since the legendary Oleg Romantsev was in charge
- Spartak have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 16 Champions League matches
- Maribor have conceded 13 goals in the last three matches without reply, and 15 in their last four away matches in the group stages
- Maribor have never won a group-stage match in the Champions League
Spartak Moscow vs Maribor – Possible Lineups
Selikhov – Eschenko, Dzhikia, Tasci, Kombarov – Fernando, Zobnin – Promes, Luiz Adriano, Melgarejo – Ze Luis
Manager: Massimo Carrera
Handanovič – Milec, Billong, Šuler, Viler – Bohar, Kabha, Pihler, Vrhovec, Ahmedi – Tavares
Manager: Darko Milanič
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.