uefa.com assesses the form of the sides in UEFA Cup Group D ahead of the opening matches on 21 October.
* NEWCASTLE UNITED FC
Newcastle have been unbeaten at home and abroad since Graeme Souness took over as manager from Sir Bobby Robson in early September.
The former Blackburn Rovers FC boss had a hard act to follow in Sir Bobby, but Newcastle have now risen to sixth in the Premiership and easily negotiated the first round of the UEFA Cup, during a six-game undefeated run. Dutch international Patrick Kluivert has also found his feet at St James' Park since his summer switch from FC Barcelona, scoring six goals in five starts. His contribution has matched that of captain Alan Shearer who has registered six times as well.
Both combined to devastating effect against Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin FC, contributing five goals between them, with Shearer's hat-trick in Israel taking his career tally over the 350 mark. The aggregate score was 7-1. Souness has also managed to accommodate a third striker, Welsh international Craig Bellamy, who is revelling in a new role on the wing.
* SPORTING CLUBE DE PORTUGAL
Sporting Clube de Portugal - who stage the UEFA Cup final at their Estádio José Alvalade on 18 May 2005 - have more pressing matters on their minds at the moment.
They may have seen off Austrian high-flyers SK Rapid Wien 2-0 on aggregate in the first round, but with just five points from five games in the Portuguese SuperLiga, they lie a lowly 14th and would be in the bottom three if Beto had not grabbed a 93rd-minute equaliser on Monday against UD Leiria.
This has put strain on coach José Peseiro, appointed in the summer after leaving his previous role as assistant to Carlos Queiroz at Real Madrid CF. Peseiro has been forced to issue pleas to fans not to boo during home games, at least before the final whistle, and he will want his side on better form to maintain the dream of emulating Feyenoord's 2002 feat of winning this trophy on home turf.
* FC SOCHAUX-MONTBÉLIARD
French League Cup holders Sochaux might have overwhelmed Norwegian strugglers Stabæk IF 9-0 on aggregate to reach this stage, but so far they have not looked the team that reached the third round of this competition last season.
Then, after winning the UEFA Intertoto Cup, they comfortably defeated BV Borussia Dortmund before being beaten on away goals by FC Internazionale Milano. Domestically, along with claiming the League Cup, they finished fifth in Ligue 1.
But since then midfield player Benoît Pedretti has gone to Olympique de Marseille and striker Pierre Alain-Frau to Olympique Lyonnais. And although Romain Pitau has arrived in midfield and Ilan up front, Sochaux have managed only eight goals in nine league games so far, leaving them in 14th place. Nonetheless, Jaouad Zairi has impressed in attack, while Jérémy Mathieu and Sylvain Monsoreau are trusty performers further back.
* PANIONIOS NFC
Finishing sixth and earning a UEFA Cup berth may have caused some clubs to bask in their success. Not Panionios ... and the decision to revamp despite a fine season is paying dividends.
Last summer saw the Athens side appoint 58-year-old Czech coach Karol Pecze in place of Jozef Bubenko, who led the team to the second round of this competition and defeat by FC Barcelona last term, while nine players were signed to replace a similar number of departures. Despite predictions that the new ensemble would take time to gel, Panionios caused a minor upset in beating Udinese Calcio 3-2 on aggregate in the first round.
Indeed, while Panionios lie eleventh domestically, both their losses have directly followed matches against Udinese. Although it is a much-changed squad, Pecze has retained Bubenko's 3-4-2-1 system, with new Slovakian signing Mário Breška working in tandem with Uruguayan playmaker Juan Martín Parodi at the heart of the side.
Set-pieces are also important, with Panionios's tall defenders helping in attack, and talents are emerging in 19-year-old defensive midfield player Alexandros Tziolis and wing-back Nikos Spiropoulos, 21 on 10 October.
* FC DINAMO TBILISI
Only one team have made the long journey from the UEFA Cup first qualifying round to the group stage - and it was a rocky road for Dinamo.
Their campaign began with a dramatic 3-2 win in Belarus at FC BATE Borisov on 15 July - a tie in which the visitors trailed 2-0 late in the first half - followed by a 1-0 home success. In the next round Dinamo fell 3-1 at SK Slavia Praha, only to triumph 2-0 in the return and go through on away goals. Then there was a repeat performance against first-round opponents Wisla Kraków, with a 4-3 loss in Poland turned around by a 2-1 victory in Georgia.
At home things are going Dinamo's way also. Champions for the first ten post-Soviet seasons up to 1998/99, Dinamo have since won the title just once in 2002/03, and let slip a useful advantage last term before ending up third, just one point off the top. Ten games in this season, though, Dinamo lead the way, and remain unbeaten at home, Mikheil Kakaladze and Levan Melkadze proving useful sources of goals.
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