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Europa League play-offs: what to look out for

Belenenses' exclusively Portuguese squad take another step towards a group stage debut, Kairat make a mammoth trek and Videoton change coaches: play-off first-leg preview.

Kairat have beaten Crvena zvezda, Alashkert and Aberdeen to get this far
Kairat have beaten Crvena zvezda, Alashkert and Aberdeen to get this far ©FC Kairat

The 22 UEFA Europa League play-off ties get under way on Thursday. Our team of correspondents highlight what to look out for ahead of the first legs.

Thursday's schedule
Group stage draw: 13.00CET, 28 August, streamed in the UEFA.com draw centre

St-Étienne on familiar ground
Moldovan hopefuls Milsami had a right to be dispirited after they were paired with Saint-Étienne in the play-off draw, having lost 6-0 on aggregate to the French side in the 2013/14 third qualifying round. "We know the hotel, we know the stadium," said Les Verts coach Christophe Galtier, who added: "Their team has changed a lot. I always say that it is never easy, but the draw could have been worse for us."
Sébastian Blanchard

Steaua, in red, are struggling for form
Steaua, in red, are struggling for form©Getty Images

Steaua staring into abyss
Yet to win in six competitive home games this season (D5 L1), and without a victory in their last four matches, Steaua Bucureşti come into the home leg of their tie against Rosenborg in less-than-startling form – and the suspensions of captain Fernando Varela and midfielder Nicandro Breeveld will not help them. "We have already had too many lapses this season," forward Adrian Popa said. "I hope we can achieve our goal and qualify for the group stage."
Paul-Daniel Zaharia

Krasnodar feeling bullish
Krasnodar produced the result of the season so far in Russia when they beat Zenit 2-0 in St Petersburg on Saturday and will look to take a scythe to the champions of Finland when HJK Helsinki arrive in southern Russia. "We don't know much about HJK, but we should win if we play as well as we can," said the Bulls' captain Andreas Granqvist. Their visitors may fear the worst: HJK have come to Russia without three key players (Sebastian Sorsa, Demba Savage and Macoumba Kandji all injured) and are smarting from a 5-1 weekend Finnish Cup home loss to IFK Mariehamn – their worst domestic defeat in over two decades.
Dmitri Rogovitski & Mikael Erävuori

Rubin up for Rabotnicki
A 1-0 win at Kuban Krasnodar gave Rubin Kazan their first points of the season in Russia, offering them some encouragement as they head to Skopje to take on Rabotnicki. "We are competing in the name of our country," said coach Rinat Bilyaletdinov, whose side lost their first four Premier-Liga fixtures. Midfielder Elmir Nabiullin added: "The minimum aim is to get to the group stage." Rubin will need no reminding, though, that CSKA Moskva lost to Rabotnicki's neighbours Vardar in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League qualifiers.
Dmitri Rogovitski

Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel
Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel©AFP/Getty Images

Klopp still looms large at Dortmund
It would have been easy for Thomas Tuchel to take all the credit for Dortmund looking so rejuvenated against Mönchengladbach in their first Bundesliga match of the season (a 4-0 win on Saturday), but the new coach stressed that his predecessor Jürgen Klopp had a lot to do with the team's fine performance. "We are only continuing what Jürgen started," said Tuchel ahead of his side's meeting with Odd. "Winning a match in this fashion was only possible because the work prior to mine was top class."
Philip Röber

Familiar faces back at Plzeň
Viktoria Plzeň – who take on Vojvodina of Serbia – have only recently replaced coach Miroslav Koubek with Karel Krejčí, formerly an assistant to Czech national team trainer Pavel Vrba. He also worked alongside Vrba at Plzeň during the club's most successful era, when they twice played in the UEFA Champions League group stage. "I did not hesitate when I received the offer and I am glad the Czech FA allowed me to accept it," said Krejčí. Former captain Pavel Horváth has also returned to the club – having retired at the end of last season – as an assistant.
Ondřej Zlámal

All change at Videoton
On the eve of Videoton's first leg at Lech Poznań, coach Bernard Casoni has left a post he only took in June having suffered four defeats in his first five league games and a Hungarian Super Cup loss to Ferencváros last month. The strength and conditioning coach the 1993 UEFA Champions League winner brought with him, Rudolpe Duvernet, has also departed, meaning assistant coach Tamás Pető will take over for the trip to Poland.
Matthew Watson-Broughton

All-Portuguese Belenenses
Back in UEFA club competition for the first time in eight years, Belenenses take on Austrian side Altach with a group stage debut in their sights – and they do so with a 25-man squad made up solely of Portuguese players. "It's part of our policy," said coach Ricardo Sá Pinto. "We would have no problem in signing a foreign player – he would be welcomed as long as he had the quality to make a difference. If not, we would rather develop young Portuguese talents. We believe this is the way, we are proud of that and all of the country should be too."
UEFA.com Portuguese newsdesk

Gajić's Kairat scouting report
New Bordeaux signing Milan Gajić has been checking out their upcoming visitors Kairat Almaty. "They are a good team – very strong," said the 19-year-old Serb. "They played Crvena zvezda in the first qualifying round and got through. I was at the game and saw them in person. They are tall and physical. They can cause us a lot of problems." A UEFA-record 5,947km journey to France, however, may leave the Kazakh side feeling a little jaded ahead of the first leg.
Sébastian Blanchard

Liberec, in blue, host Hajduk Split
Liberec, in blue, host Hajduk Split©Jaroslav Appeltauer

A tram and a brewery
Slovan Liberec drew 1-1 against neighbours Jablonec on Sunday, conceding a late equaliser. It was the pre-match press conference which was particularly interesting, however, as it was held in a tram in the middle of the route connecting the two towns. Jidřích Trpišovský's team now face Hajduk Split, whose fans can embark on something of a pilgrimage in the Czech Republic. The famous U Fleků brewery in Prague was where the club was founded by a group of Croatian students in 1911.
Ondřej Zlámal

Astra: Romania's rising stars
The conquerors of Lyon 12 months ago, Astra Giurgiu come into their meeting with AZ Alkmaar in superb form. They are top of the Romanian First Division and on a run of four straight wins, including the 2-1 third qualifying round second-leg defeat of West Ham United and a 2-0 home victory against Steaua. Defender Geraldo Alves is back from an injury suffered against the Hammers a fortnight ago and the only cloud on the horizon is the departure of long-serving Japanese midfielder Takayuki Seto after Turkey's Osmanlıspor matched his buy-out clause.
Paul-Daniel Zaharia

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