UEFA.com picks out some of the most intriguing storylines as the 2023/24 Europa League group stage reaches its penultimate matchday.
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We are approaching the penultimate games of the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League group stage and the stakes could barely be higher as the 32 ambitious teams involved look to light up the competition.
In this piece presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we pick out some key talking points ahead of the Matchday 5 fixtures. Remember: Every mission matters.
Thursday 30 November
Group A: Freiburg vs Olympiacos (18:45), TSC vs West Ham (18:45)
Group B: AEK Athens vs Brighton (18:45), Marseille vs Ajax (21:00)
Group C: Sparta Praha vs Real Betis (18:45), Rangers vs Aris Limassol (21:00)
Group D: Atalanta vs Sporting CP (18:45), Sturm Graz vs Raków Czestochowa (18:45)
Group E: Liverpool vs LASK (21:00), Toulouse vs Union SG (21:00)
Group F: Maccabi Haifa vs Rennes (18:45), Villarreal vs Panathinaikos (21:00)
Group G: Servette vs Roma (21:00), Sheriff Tiraspol vs Slavia Praha (21:00)
Group H: Molde vs Qarabağ (21:00), Häcken vs Leverkusen (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 Champions League groups. The Europa League third-place sides switch to the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout round play-offs.
Brighton's European adventure continues
Brighton did not exactly enjoy a dream start to their first ever European campaign when they were beaten 3-2 at home by AEK Athens on Matchday 1. But the Seagulls now face the same opponents absolutely flying in Group B, having picked up a draw away at Marseille followed by two consecutive wins over four-time European champions Ajax to put them on the brink of the round of 16.
With AEK lying just three points behind Roberto De Zerbi's side, however, a win for the Greek champions would leave the group too close to call, and it will be fascinating to see if they can get the double over Brighton. They will have to work hard to breach their opponents' defence: no player in the competition made more tackles on Matchday 4 than the six managed by both Joël Veltman and Jan-Paul van Hecke as they kept a clean sheet in the 2-0 triumph at Ajax.
Molde and Qarabağ's big showdown
With Leverkusen the runaway leaders of Group H having won four games out of four and Häcken yet to pick up any points, Matchday 5's meeting between Molde and Qarabağ could very well prove to be a showdown to decide who will finish second.
The Norwegians have only progressed past this stage twice before, while in seven previous attempts Qarabağ have never finished in the top two of a Europa League group. There is, therefore, plenty riding on this encounter.
"I want to thank my players," said Qarabağ coach Gurban Gurbanov after his side's narrow late defeat by Leverkusen on Matchday 4. "We lost, but the fans saw 90 minutes of a good fight. Such matches bring great benefits to the development of our football." There could yet be plenty more development ahead if the Azerbaijani team make history by qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Reina set for landmark
Pepe Reina recently turned 41, but he is showing no signs of slowing down as he continues to impress between the posts for Villarreal. The former Barcelona, Liverpool and Napoli goalkeeper will make an incredible 189th appearance in UEFA club competitions if he features in his side's Group F match against Panathinaikos, taking him second on the all-time list, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo (197 matches) and above fellow goalkeeping great Iker Casillas (188)
If Villarreal were to reach the final, Reina would have a chance of drawing level with Ronaldo this season should he feature in all The Yellow Submarine's matches. "Football has been a way of life for me for so long," Reina said earlier this year. "As long as I can be helpful for the club, then I'll be around. I feel very lucky to still be playing at this level."
When are the remaining Europa League group stage games?
Matchday 6: 14 December 2023
Knockout round play-off draw: 18 December 2023
Knockout round play-offs: 15 and 22 February 2024
Round of 16 draw: 23 February 2024
Round of 16: 7 and 14 March 2024
• Brothers Kevin and Alexis Mac Allister are set to reunite for a second time in this tournament when Union SG host Liverpool in Group E on Matchday 6.
• Sparta Praha beat Aris Limassol 3-2 in an enthralling encounter on Matchday 1. The same opponents meet again in Cyprus on 14 December, where goals could be on the agenda once more.
• Leverkusen pair Florian Wirtz and Victor Boniface currently lead the way when it comes to most goals and assists combined in the tournament so far, with a total of six and five respectively. They will both feel confident of adding to their tally when their team host Molde on Matchday 6.
Where is the 2024 UEFA Europa League final being played?
The 2023/24 UEFA Europa League season will conclude at Dublin Arena in the Republic of Ireland on 22 May 2024.
With a capacity in excess of 50,000, Dublin Arena is the home of the Republic of Ireland's national football and Ireland's rugby union team. First opened in 2010, the stadium will be staging its second UEFA Europa League decider, having been the venue for the all-Portuguese final of 2011 between Porto and Braga, when Radamel Falcao scored the only goal as the Dragons took the trophy.