Norwegian newcomers Sarpsborg start Group I with a daunting trip to perennial group stage contenders Beşiktaş.
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The UEFA Europa League group stage welcomes a newcomer in Sarpsborg, and the Norwegian club's debut season in Europe, which started in the first qualifying round, continues at the home of competition regulars Beşiktaş, who are in a European group stage for the fifth season in a row.
• There have been no previous matches between the two clubs, nor between Sarpsborg and any other Turkish team.
• Beşiktaş are undefeated in four home fixtures against different Norwegian clubs, winning three including each of the last two without conceding. Their record in Norway is the exact opposite, with no wins and three defeats in their four visits.
• Bidding for a hat-trick of Turkish titles, Beşiktaş could only finish fourth in the 2017/18 Süper Lig, which earned them a berth in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. They saw off B36, LASK and, in the play-offs, Partizan to reach the group stage, winning all three Istanbul encounters without conceding.
• Beşiktaş are back in the UEFA Europa League after a season's absence, during which they reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League as group winners. They have progressed from their group three times out of four in the UEFA Europa League, though the one failure came on their most recent appearance, in 2015/16. They reached the quarter-finals of the competition the following season after switching over from the UEFA Champions League in mid-campaign.
• The Istanbul club's only defeat in their last 16 European home matches (W8 D7) came in last season's UEFA Champions League round of 16 against Bayern München (1-3). They have won their last seven at home in the UEFA Europa League, qualifying included.
• Formed in 2008, Sarpsborg enjoyed the best season of their short history in 2017, finishing third in the Eliteserien and reaching the final of the Norwegian Cup. The league position secured European involvement for the first time, and they have made the most of the opportunity, progressing all the way from the first qualifying round to the group phase.
• After kicking off their European debut with a 6-0 aggregate win over Iceland's ÍBV, they used the away goals rule to get past Switzerland's St Gallen before overcoming Rijeka of Croatia 2-1 over two legs and then seeing off Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the play-offs (3-1 home, 1-2 away).
• Sarpsborg's four away fixtures in Europe have yielded two wins and two defeats.
Links and trivia
• Sarpsborg are one of four clubs who began their successful journey to the UEFA Europa League group stage in the first qualifying round, the others being Apollon Limassol, FC København and Rangers.
• The Norwegian club are one of five making their debut this season in the UEFA Europa League proper, along with Akhisar, Dudelange, Jablonec and Spartak Trnava.
• Beşiktaş coach Şenol Güneş famously guided Turkey to third place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. A goalkeeper who spent the majority of his playing career at home-town Trabzonspor, a club he has returned to coach on three occasions – winning Turkish Cups in 1995 and 2010 – he led Beşiktaş to the 2015/16 Turkish title in his first season and subsequently took the Black Eagles to the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League quarter-finals and last term's UEFA Champions League round of 16 for the first time.
• A coaching career spent exclusively in his native Norway peaked for Geir Bakke when the Sarpsborg side he has led since January 2015 finished third in the 2017 Eliteserien to qualify for a first crack at European football and subsequently negotiated four qualifying ties to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage. Prior to joining Sarpsborg he was the assistant to Tor Ole Skullerud as Molde claimed their first Norwegian league and cup double in 2014.