What to watch out for in the UEFA Europa League

Manchester United are living a little more dangerously than they would have hoped as matchday five approaches, while a massive first is in the offing for Qarabağ.

José Mourinho watches his side at Fenerbahçe
José Mourinho watches his side at Fenerbahçe ©Getty Images

United's worst-case scenario
Having won the 2002/03 UEFA Cup with Porto in his last season in the competition, José Mourinho faces a doomsday scenario in Group A on matchday five; if Manchester United lose to Feyenoord for a second time, and Fenerbahçe win against Zorya, the Red Devils' maiden UEFA Europa League group stage campaign will be dead in the water. With a skein of players struggling for fitness, and inconsistent results of late, Mourinho has not always seemed happy, accusing his side of looking like they were "playing a summer friendly" in their 2-1 matchday four loss at Fenerbahçe. Can they raise their game?
United v Feyenoord, 20:05

Watch Aduriz score five for Athletic
Watch Aduriz score five for Athletic

Will Sassuolo succumb to Aduriz?
After Aritz Aduriz scored all five of his team's goals in the 5-3 Group F defeat of Genk on matchday four, Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde said: "We're so fortunate to have witnessed this and to be able to say we were in the stadium that night." Another night to remember may beckon as Sassuolo come to Bilbao; the Italians beat Athletic 3-0 on matchday one but will be out if they lose, while the 35-year-old Aduriz – level with Zenit's Giuliano on five goals – can dream of being the UEFA Europa League's top scorer for a second successive season, having hit ten in 2015/16.
Athletic v Sassuolo, 20:05

Nice's escape route
Could European away wins be like London buses for Ligue 1 leaders Nice? After waiting 60 years for their first – which came at Salzburg on matchday three – they now need another, this time against Schalke, if they are to preserve their hopes of progressing from Group I (they are currently bottom). "I know a bit about the German mentality," said Nice's former Gladbach, Bayern and Wolfsburg defender Dante. "They will not want to lose even if they have already qualified. It is up to us to make a real game of it over there."
Schalke v Nice, 18:00

Yunus Mall celebrates a Bundesliga goal for Mainz
Yunus Mall celebrates a Bundesliga goal for Mainz©Getty Images

Mainz feeling the strain
"We have two finals ahead of us in the Europa League," said Mainz coach Martin Schmidt, the Germany debutants having found the going tough in Group C. Victories in their remaining games, though, would most likely mean party time for the Carnival Club come the end of the year, and the winter break cannot come soon enough for some. "A lot of players were close to breaking point just before the international break," Schmidt noted. "It's a new experience for us to be having this mental fatigue."
St-Étienne v Mainz, 20:05

Qarabağ close in on Azeri first
"Frankly we had not set ourselves a goal of qualification," admitted Qarabağ midfielder Gara Garayev. "But now we want to do that for the first time in Azerbaijani football history." On seven points as they visit Liberec in Group J, a win (or a draw if PAOK drop points) would make Gurban Gurbanov's side the first Azeri team to get through a UEFA club competition group stage – a massive achievement. "By playing in Europe, Qarabağ are telling the world that Azerbaijan exists," added midfielder Maksim Medvedev. Successfully qualifying would shout that fact a little louder.
Liberec v Qarabağ, 18:00

Highlights: Sparta Praha 2-0 H. Beer-Sheva
Highlights: Sparta Praha 2-0 H. Beer-Sheva

Angles aligning as Sparta target qualification
"After the [3-0 defeat in] Southampton everybody wrote us off, but we hit back with nine points in three games, which is excellent," beamed defender Michal Kadlec, whose Sparta outfit now top Group K and will qualify if they can overcome English opponents for the first time in almost 33 years. "We all feel qualification is close," said stand-in coach David Holoubek. "All the boys and everyone at Sparta deserves to be in the competition in the spring." They have not won in their last 15 games against Southampton's compatriots, yet – unbeaten at home in Europe this term (W3 D1) – Sparta have a right to dream.
Sparta v Southampton, 18:00

Fortress Astana awaits APOEL
"It is very important for the world to know that we are strong at home," said coach Stanimir Stoilov, his Astana side unbeaten in 11 European home matches (W5 D6) but in dire need of a victory as APOEL make the 3,500km trip east to Kazakhstan. Astana's only chance of reaching the last 32 for the first time hinges on them winning – and Olympiacos losing at home to Young Boys. "It is nice to be unbeaten at home," said defender Dmitri Shonko after his team took their second Group B home point against Olympiacos on matchday four. "But we have to win games if we want to achieve something."
Astana v APOEL, 16:00

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