An evolving Aston Villa side eye another feather to add to their European bow, PAOK and Frankfurt vie for supremacy and Group F goes down to the wire.
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It is fast approaching now or never as we move into the penultimate round of group stage fixtures in the 2023/24 UEFA Europa Conference League. Aston Villa seek revenge against Legia, PAOK and Frankfurt battle for top spot and something has to give as Fiorentina host Genk.
In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of Matchday 5. Remember: Every mission matters.
Thursday 30 November
Group A: Olimpija Ljubljana vs LOSC Lille (18:45), KÍ Klaksvík vs Slovan Bratislava (18:45)
Group B: Gent vs Zorya Luhansk (18:45), Breidablik vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (14:00)
Group C: Astana vs Dinamo Zagreb (16:30), Ballkani vs Viktoria Plzeň (18:45)
Group D: Bodø/Glimt vs Lugano (18:45), Beşiktaş vs Club Brugge (18:45)
Group E: AZ Alkmaar vs Zrinjski (18:45), Aston Villa vs Legia Warszawa (21:00)
Group F: Fiorentina vs Genk (21:00), Čukarički vs Ferencváros (21:00)
Group G: HJK Helsinki vs Aberdeen (18:45), Frankfurt vs PAOK (21:00)
Group H: Nordsjælland vs Fenerbahçe (21:00), Spartak Trnava vs Ludogorets (21:00)
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.
Villa revenge best served cold
Unai Emery spoke after Aston Villa beat AZ Alkmaar 2-1 on Matchday 4 about the need of his team to get a "feel" for European competition after so long away. Well, so far his side have ticked off an agonising defeat, last-gasp win, blow-out triumph and a comeback victory. Next up: A revenge mission?
Villa were surprisingly beaten 3-2 at Legia Warszawa on the opening night. Ten weeks on, early autumn is now winter and the English team now have more of a "feel" for the competition so what better way to prove their progress than an act of vengeance that would take them clear of their opponents at the top of Group E?
Three into two doesn't go. Group F has developed into a three-way shoot-out for the top two spots between Fiorentina, Genk and Ferencváros. Four games in and the trio remain unbeaten, drawing all their meetings and beating point-less Serbian side Čukarički. Something has to give.
Fiorentina travel to Ferencváros on Matchday 6 but first is a home meeting with Genk, a match that could go a long way to deciding the section. The Belgian side twice came from behind to snatch a draw in September's reverse fixture but, with home advantage, the Viola will be confident of getting all three points this time around.
Aiming for top spot
There is no shortage of incentive for teams to finish top of their group, thereby avoiding a potentially thorny knockout round play-off meeting with one of the teams transferring from the UEFA Europa League.
Therefore, while PAOK and Frankfurt have already secured their passage to the knockout stages, there will still be plenty to play for when they meet in Germany. The Greek side are in the box seat thanks to their 2-1 win in October's reverse fixture, a match that also ended 2-1 in terms of red cards following a dramatic denouement.
When are the remaining Europa Conference League games?
Matchday 6: 14 December 2023
Knockout round play-offs: 15 and 22 February 2024
Round of 16: 7 and 14 March 2024
Quarter-finals: 11 and 18 April 2024
Semi-finals: 2 and 9 May 2024
Final: 29 May 2024
• Dinamo Zagreb have a proud European pedigree but they have a lot of work to do to escape Group C. Viktoria Plzeň have top spot wrapped up, so the Croatian giants must get a result in Astana next time out before a potential winner-takes-all meeting with Ballkani on Matchday 6.
• You have to expect the unexpected in the Europa Conference League, but there looks set to be plenty on the line for Ferencváros's home fixture against Fiorentina on 14 December. Their first meeting certainly didn't disappoint.
• The knockout round play-off draw, featuring the Europa Conference League group runners-up, takes place in Nyon on 18 December. Group winners can rest up a little: the round of 16 draw is on 23 February.
Where is the 2024 Europa Conference League final being played?
The 2023/24 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.