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Villarreal vs Astana – Thursday, September 14, 18:00 BT/19:00 CET La Cerámica – Villarreal, Spain.

Villarreal vs Astana will take place at La Cerámica in Villarreal. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Villarreal vs Astana will take place at La Cerámica in Villarreal. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

For the second season in a row, Astana are in the Europa League group stage. It is another major success for the club from Kazakhstan. Owned by the powerful state fund Samruk-Kazyna Astana are very much the standout club of Kazakh football. A champion for three straight seasons—Kazakhstan uses the spring to fall calendar—Astana are on route to defend their title for the fourth time.

The next step in the development of the club is now to survive the group stage of a European competition. Drawn in a group with Thursday’s opponent Villarreal, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Slavia Prague Astana will want to use the experienced gained from last season’s Europa League group stage and the 2015-16 Champions League group stage to reach the next round.

To achieve that Astana will have to improve their record on the road. Undefeated in six straight UEFA group stage games Astana have been abysmal on the road only collecting one point from six games. Never having won on the road will, therefore, make them a major outsider against Villarreal on Thursday.

Villarreal in the meantime will want to improve on last season’s performance where Roma eliminated them in the round of 32. A legendary club the Yellow Submarines have had some deep runs in the Europa League most recently in 2015-16 when they were eliminated by Liverpool in the semi-finals.

Villarreal vs Astana – Players to look out for:

Carlos Bacca #9 – Villarreal

The 31-year-old Carlos Bacca joined Villarreal on loan from AC Milan this summer to resurrect his career. Two years ago he was instrumental in guiding Sevilla to a 3-2 victory over Ukrainian side Dnipro. That summer Bacca joined AC Milan, but the Colombian was never able to duplicate his scoring success from his days in Spain and after two rather mediocre seasons left Italy and returned to Spain. A complete striker with a build in scoring guarantee Bacca was on the scoresheet in Villarreal’s 3-1 victory over Betis Sevilla on the weekend.

Carlos Bacca is back in Spain to resurrect his career. (JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Carlos Bacca is back in Spain to resurrect his career. (JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Junior Kabananga #30 – Astana

Junior Kabananga is Astana’s goal guarantee. The 28-year-old striker has scored 15 goals and five assists in 23 games this season for Astana. A tall and athletic striker Kabananga is a classic centre forward who likes to use his strength to break through defensive lines. Unfortunately for Astana Kabananga, despite having a decent performance, was left off the score sheet at the Celtic Park last week.

Junior Kabananga is Astana's number one attacking option. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Junior Kabananga is Astana’s number one attacking option. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Villarreal vs Astana – Match Stats

  • The teams met in the 2014-15 UEFA Europa League play-offs. Villarreal won 3-0 against Stanimir Stoilov’s men in Astana and 4-0 in Spain. That home loss is the heaviest in Astana’s European history.
  • Astana also faced Atlético Madrid in the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League group stage, losing 4-0 in the Spanish capital and drawing 0-0 in Kazakhstan.
  • They have conceded a combined eight unanswered goals in two trips to Spain, and have yet to win or score in four encounters with Liga sides.
  • Villarreal have lost three of their last five European home games, most recently a 4-0 reverse to Roma in last season’s UEFA Europa League round of 32—their heaviest European home defeat to date.
  • Kazakh champions Astana have won just one of their last 16 European away matches (W1 D5 L10), triumphing 1-0 at Spartaks Jūrmala in this season’s UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.

Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Villarreal vs Astana 3-0

Villarreal vs Astana – Possible Lineups

Villarreal

Formation: 4-2-2-2

Barbosa – Costa, Ruiz, Gonzalez, Rukavina – Trigueros, Hernandez – Fornals, Castillejo – Bakambu, Bacca

Manager: Fran Escribá

Astana

Formation: 4-1-4-1

Eric – Shomko, Anicic, Postnikov, Shitov – Maevskiy – Tomasov, Muzhikov, Kleinheisler, Twumasi – Kabananga

Manager: Stanimir Stoilov

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Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of 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.

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