What to watch for on Europa League matchday five

Celtic face a must-win tussle with Ajax, Braga are chasing another slice of history and David Lafata will be after more goals as the intrigue thickens ahead of matchday five.

Celtic cannot afford to drop points against Ajax
Celtic cannot afford to drop points against Ajax ©Getty Images

Group A
Celtic must win battle of European champions
Thursday's game against Ajax falls into the must-win category for Celtic who are currently bottom of Group A and still searching for their first victory. A defeat or draw would hand the initiative to Fenerbahçe should they record a victory away to group leaders Molde, who secured qualification with a 2-1 win in Glasgow last time out.

Therefore, manager Ronny Deila knows only too well the importance of grabbing all three points against the Dutch side if the Hoops are to take their hopes of a place in the knockout stage down to the wire in their final match in Turkey. We have to be a unit with a lot of energy and belief, but we also have to be patient," said Deila. "We are at Celtic Park and we are going to be kings."
Celtic v Ajax, 21.05CET

Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol
Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol©AFP/Getty Images

Group B
Thrilling experience in store for Sagnol
As Liverpool and Bordeaux meet again there will be a new challenge for the French club's coach Willy Sagnol as he meets opposite number Jürgen Klopp for the first time. Brendan Rodgers was still in charge during the first game, which ended 1-1, but despite the difficult away trip, Sagnol is delighted to be coming up against a man he holds in very high regard.

"It is good he was chosen," said the former French international. "He is a great coach. I'm sure it will work for them. He is passionate and in a club shaped by the passion of football. I like his mindset, what he tries to do. He's brought a lot of freshness to football. I'll be thrilled to shake his hand at Anfield."
Liverpool v Bordeaux, 21.05CET

Group F
Braga on verge of making more history

Leaders Braga, the 2011 finalists, have already made club history in this European campaign and they will be aiming for another record when they welcome Slovan Liberec on Thursday. Never before this season had Braga won their first two games in a group stage of any European competition, and by winning their next they equalled their record of three straight victories.

They then lost 1-0 in Marseille, but victory against Liberec would break their record of 11 points in a group and would confirmed them in the round of 32, extending their unblemished streak of getting through UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League groups to five campaigns. Even a draw will be enough if Marseille lose to Groningen.
Braga v Slovan Liberec, 21.05CET

Sporting's João Mário remains confident
Sporting's João Mário remains confident©AFP/Getty Images

Group H
Sporting seek reversal of fortune

With only four points after four matches, Sporting CP cannot afford any more slip-ups. Only victory at Lokomotiv Moskva would ensure they go into their last game versus Beşiktaş still in contention regardless of how the Turkish club do against Skënderbeu on Thursday, but the omens are not good.

Sporting have never won in Russia and in eight games against teams from that nation have lost six, winning and drawing just once. Already this season they have gone down 3-1 at CSKA Moskva in the UEFA Champions League play-offs, and they are also on a run of 17 away matches in Europe without victory dating back to a 17 September 2011 trip to FC Zürich. Midfielder João Mário, though, remains optimistic: "We only depend on ourselves. If we win the last two matches we are through."
Lokomotiv Moskva v Sporting CP, 19.00CET

Group K
Lafata on target again?

Since joining Sparta Praha in 2013, captain David Lafata has scored nine goals in his 11 UEFA Europa League group stage starts. Since victory at home to Asteras on Thursday could take Sparta through, the club rather hope the 34-year-old keeps up his run, having already got three this season including the equaliser in the 1-1 draw in Greece that opened the group.

"I did not know about this statistic; it's pleasant to hear it," Lafata said.  "But for us it is more important to seal qualification as soon as possible. We would not like to leave it for the final matchday."
Sparta Praha v Asteras Tripolis, 19.00CET

John van den Brom has made a big impact at AZ
John van den Brom has made a big impact at AZ©AFP/Getty Images

Group L
AZ extend coach contract
AZ Alkmaar may be bottom of the group but on Friday they showed confidence in coach John van den Brom by giving him a one-year contract extension until summer 2017 with the option for a further 12 months. Victory is paramount for AZ against Partizan on Thursday, and the club's director of football affairs Max Huiberts said of the coach: "Since he joined AZ, the club and individual players have been successful. John has an eye for the development of young talent. That is important for a club like AZ. John dares to give young players a chance."

Van den Brom, who played in Ajax's 1995 UEFA Champions League-winning squad and joined AZ in September 2014, leading them to third in the Eredivisie, added: "I really feel good here at AZ. At this club the conditions are there to work in the way I like to. We have a fantastic staff and squad with a lot of talent and experienced players. There is still a lot of potential for growth."
AZ v Partizan, 19.00CET

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