Villarreal are leading the way in a tight Group G, although defeat by Spartak Moskva would mean elimination.
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In a hotly contested UEFA Europa League Group G, all four teams still harbour hopes of progress to the knockout phase. Villarreal, seeking a record seventh qualification, go into their matchday six encounter with Spartak Moskva leading the section, but the Russian side will be through in their hosts' place should they win.
• Villarreal are unbeaten after five matches, but draws have been the name of the game for the Liga club, four of them supplemented by a 5-0 win over Rapid Wien in their last home fixture, on matchday three. They will reach the round of 32 if they avoid defeat against Spartak, and will top the group with a win, or a draw if Rapid also draw at home to Rangers. If Villarreal lose, they are out.
• Spartak suffered a shock 1-2 defeat at home to Rapid last time out, which dropped them from second spot to fourth. Like Villarreal, they have won only one of their five matches – 4-3 at home to Rangers – but need a second victory to qualify, which is only possible as runners-up. Any other result spells elimination.
• The teams were involved in a six-goal thriller on matchday two, Villarreal twice taking the lead in Moscow but ultimately salvaging a point only with an equalising penalty from Santi Cazorla deep into added time.
• The sides' sole encounters before this season had come in the 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup third round, Villarreal winning the tie 3-2 (1-0 home, 2-2 away).
• Villarreal have a perfect record at home against Russian opposition, winning all three of their previous encounters, most recently 1-0 versus Zenit in the third round of the 2007/08 UEFA Cup – though they would lose that tie on away goals to the eventual winners.
• Spartak have amassed 31 matches against Spanish clubs in UEFA competition, but they have never drawn a game in Spain, winning five and losing ten. A 2-1 win at Athletic Club in last season's UEFA Europa League round of 32 – their only visit in this competition – was insufficient to win the tie after a 1-3 first-leg defeat in Moscow, but it did end a run of four successive defeats on Spanish soil.
• Villarreal finished fifth in the 2017/18 Spanish Liga to qualify for Europe for the fifth successive season, all of them featuring UEFA Europa League group stage participation – and in every previous case progress into the competition's knockout phase.
• In total they have made seven UEFA Europa League group stage appearances and have yet to finish outside the top two. Their best seasons in the competition were 2010/11 and 2015/16, in which they reached the semi-finals.
• Villarreal's record at home in 20 UEFA Europa League group stage matches is W14 D3 L3, two of those defeats having come in the last two seasons – against Osmanlıspor (1-2) in 2016/17 and Maccabi Tel-Aviv (0-1) in 2017/18. Indeed, they have lost five of their last 11 home fixtures in Europe, winning just four.
• Spartak were unable to defend their Russian Premier League title in 2017/18, finishing third behind Moscow rivals Lokomotiv and CSKA. Their only European qualifying tie this season ended in defeat – 2-3 on aggregate against PAOK in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, a result that propelled them into the UEFA Europa League group stage.
• The Muscovites have played UEFA Europa League football in five previous seasons but never in the group stage until this term. They reached the quarter-finals in 2010/11 and the round of 32 in 2017/18, when, having crossed over from the UEFA Champions League in mid-campaign, they lost to Athletic. In the other three seasons they fell at the first hurdle in the qualifying phase.
• That 2-1 win in Bilbao is their only victory in the last 15 European away fixtures (D6 L8). Among the defeats was a 7-0 reverse at Liverpool on matchday six of last season's UEFA Champions League – Spartak's heaviest ever defeat in UEFA competition.
Links and trivia
• Villarreal's Carlos Bacca and Spartak's Luiz Adriano were strike partners at AC Milan between 2015 and 2016. Italian defenders Daniele Bonera (Villarreal) and Salvatore Bocchetti (Spartak) played for the same club in 2014/15.
• Spartak trio Ilya Kutepov, Roman Zobnin and Aleksandr Samedov all started Russia's round of 16 victory over Spain at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
• Villarreal hold the record not only for the most games played in the UEFA Europa League, group stage to final (67), but also the most goals scored (114). Salzburg, however, overtook them on matchday four in the category for most wins, and now lead them 36 to 34.
• Villarreal appointed Luis García Plaza as head coach on Monday, having earlier in the day dismissed Javier Calleja. The 46-year-old from Madrid had a low-key playing career as a defender in Spain's lower leagues but first demonstrated his coaching potential with a successful season in charge of Villarreal's B team in 2005/06, since when he has gone on to operate as a Liga head coach with both Levante and Getafe as well as working in the United Arab Emirates and, latterly, China with second-tier outfit Beijing Renhe.
• Following the dismissal of Massimo Carrera on 22 October, and a spell under his assistant Raúl Riancho, Spartak announced on 12 November the appointment of 52-year-old Oleg Kononov as their new head coach. He arrived from Arsenal Tula, where he had only been operating since the start of the season following a similarly short spell at Akhmat Grozny. A former midfielder, he spent the bulk of his playing career in Belarus. His first senior coaching job was in Ukraine with Karpaty Lviv but it was during a progressive spell at FC Krasnodar, from 2013–16, that he established his reputation in Russia.