Aston Villa welcome unpredictable opponents and Fiorentina are up against a side with the wind in their sails as the UEFA Europa Conference League group stage continues on 5 October.
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Aston Villa are up for a challenge, Fiorentina welcome a Ferencváros side walking tall, while the parameters of the UEFA Europa Conference League will be forever extended to the north-west on 5 October.
In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the second round of group stage games. Remember: Every mission matters.
Astana vs Viktoria Plzeň (16:30)
Olimpija Ljubljana vs Slovan Bratislava (18:45)
KÍ Klaksvík vs LOSC Lille (18:45)
Breidablik vs Zorya Luhansk (18:45)
Gent vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (18:45)
Ballkani vs Dinamo Zagreb (18:45)
Bodø/Glimt vs Club Brugge (18:45)
Beşiktaş vs Lugano (18:45)
AZ Alkmaar vs Legia Warszawa (21:00)
Aston Villa vs Zrinjski (21:00)
Fiorentina vs Ferencváros (21:00)
Čukarički vs Genk (21:00)
PAOK vs Frankfurt (21:00)
Aberdeen vs HJK Helsinki (21:00)
Nordsjælland vs Ludogorets (21:00)
Spartak Trnava vs Fenerbahçe (21:00)
All kick-off times CET
How qualifying for the knockouts works
The eight group winners automatically go through to the last 16. Additional knockout round play-offs will then be played before the round of 16, pitching the eight group runners-up against the third-ranked teams from the UEFA Europa League groups.
What to look out for
Villa welcome Zrinjski miracle men
Manager Unai Emery put an interesting spin on Aston Villa's Matchday 1 loss at Legia Warszawa as the Premier League side failed to sparkle in their first European group stage game since 2008. "I like demanding games that are a challenge and not easy," said the four-time UEFA Europa League-winning coach. "Now [because of this defeat] these will be the types of matches we will face in the group." Emery may thus be pleased that Villa's next guests, Zrinjski, are a more demanding proposition than they initially seemed.
The first Bosnian club to feature in a major UEFA group stage, the Mostar side were 3-0 down by half-time in their Matchday 1 home game against AZ Alkmaar, but staged a stunning comeback to win 4-3. "They turned it around against one of the top Dutch sides and not against some village team," beamed coach Krunoslav Rendulić. Villa away is a bigger test, but the Europa Conference League is an adventure where everyone can dare to dream, and Zrinjski come to Birmingham armed with proof that miracles happen.
Fearsome Ferencváros head for Florence
Europa Conference League finalists last season, Fiorentina are on paper one of the favourites to reach the latter stages of the competition again. However, the Europa Conference League is an exciting chance for clubs, fans and players to prove themselves on a whole new stage, and reputations can count for little on Thursday nights. The Viola drew 2-2 at Genk on Matchday 1, but may have an even bigger obstacle in their path as ambitious Hungarian champions Ferencváros make their way to Italy.
Fradi's 3-1 success against Čukarički last time out was their seventh straight win in all competitions (a run during which they scored 32 goals), and their new coach – former Lazio and Inter midfielder Dejan Stanković, who was hired at the start of the month – knows all about winning games in Italy. "I am satisfied with the attitude, but this is just the start for me," Stanković said of the Čukarički game, adding of his side's mentality: "If you believe and carry on doing what you do, it will pay off."
Faroes and Iceland stage first group stage games
Stanković's words will certainly ring true to footballers in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, whose efforts over the years have finally been rewarded by sides from their national leagues making it to the group stage of a major UEFA competition for the first time this year. Iceland's Breidablik (2-3 at Maccabi Tel-Aviv) and the Faroes' Kĺ Klaksvík (1-2 at Slovan Bratislava) both lost away on Matchday 1 but they will be a different prospect on home soil.
Breidablik will welcome Ukraine's Zorya Luhansk at the Icelandic national team's Laugardalsvöllur stadium in Reykjavik, while former Barcelona player Samuel Umtiti could be among the LOSC Lille party that travels to take on Kĺ at Tórsvøllur in Torshavn. "Lille is a massive club throughout all of Europe," said Kĺ boss Magne Hoseth. "So to be able to welcome them to the Faroe Islands for competitive European matches is going to be special for our club and for the whole country." How special? Wait and see.
When are the remaining Europa Conference League group stage games?
Matchday 3: 26 October 2023
Matchday 4: 9 November 2023
Matchday 5: 30 November 2023
Matchday 6: 14 December 2023
• Ties on Matchday 3 are reversed on Matchday 4, so expect plenty of emotion as sides face each other home and away. With both having made false starts in Group E (see above), AZ's double-header against Aston Villa could be a big one.
• Fenerbahçe and Ludogorets have both been UEFA Champions League regulars in the last decade, but their first ever competitive meetings will come in Group H. The Turkish side are on a roll having won their first 11 games in all competitions this season.
• There may be an extra frisson of tension when Viktoria Plzeň come to Dinamo Zagreb on Matchday 3. The sides met in the 2018/19 Europa League round of 32; the Czech club won 2-1 at home in the first leg but went down 3-0 in the decider in Croatia.
Where is the 2024 UEFA Europa Conference League final being played?
The 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League season is set to conclude at the Agia Sofia Stadium in Athens, Greece, on Wednesday 29 May 2024.
Opened in September 2022, the new stadium stands on the site of the Nikos Goumas Stadium, which had been home to AEK Athens since 1930 but sustained serious damage during an earthquake in 1999. With a capacity of over 30,000, the new stadium in the north-western suburb of Nea Filadelfia stages Greece international home games as well as AEK matches.