AEK Larnaca v Ludogorets background

AEK Larnaca and Ludogorets are still looking for their first Group A point as they prepare to meet in Cyprus.

AEK Larnaca players react to their matchday two defeat
AEK Larnaca players react to their matchday two defeat ©Getty Images

AEK and Ludogorets meet in Nicosia still searching for their first point in UEFA Europa League Group A. Defeats in each of their opening two matches have left them both with a considerable amount of ground to make up on section rivals Bayer Leverkusen and FC Zürich.

Previous meetings
• This is the first time in UEFA competition that AEK have faced Bulgarian opposition and Ludogorets have encountered a team from Cyprus.

Form guide
AEK
• AEK qualified for this season's UEFA Europa League by winning the Cypriot Cup for the second time – and first in 14 years – after coming from behind to defeat Apollon 2-1 in the final. They are in Europe for the fourth successive season and in the UEFA Europa League group stage for the second time, having lost successive play-offs to Czech opposition in the last two campaigns.

Highlights: Leverkusen 4-2 AEK Larnaca
Highlights: Leverkusen 4-2 AEK Larnaca

• AEK won one, drew one and lost one of their three home games in the 2011/12 group stage, the 0-5 defeat to Schalke being the club's heaviest in European competition. They finished bottom of a section also comprising Steaua Bucureşti and Maccabi Haifa, registering five points.

• The Larnaca-based club's matchday one defeat against Zürich (0-1) ended a seven-match unbeaten European run at home (W6 D1) during which they did not concede a goal, scoring 20 times themselves including 12 in this term's qualifying phase – 4-0 v Dundalk (aggregate 4-0), 5-0 v Sturm Graz (7-0) and 3-0 v Trenčín (4-1).

Ludogorets
• Ludogorets' seventh consecutive Bulgarian league title earned them a place in this season's UEFA Champions League first qualifying round. Having seen off Crusaders 9-0 over two games, they then lost to Hungarian champions Vidi to move into the UEFA Europa League, where they eliminated Zrinjski and Torpedo Kutaisi to reach the group stage of the competition for the second year in a row – and third time in all.

• The Razgrad club have been successful in each of their previous two UEFA Europa League group stage participations, reaching the round of 16 in 2013/14 and round of 32 in 2017/18. They also competed in the 2016/17 round of 32, having finished third in their UEFA Champions League group.

• Ludogorets boast an impressive record on their travels in the UEFA Europa League, having lost just three of their 14 matches, qualifying included (W6 D5), and never conceded more than once in any of those games. The matchday two defeat at Zürich (0-1) was their first away from home in seven group stage matches (W4 D2).

Highlights: Zürich 1-0 Ludogorets
Highlights: Zürich 1-0 Ludogorets

Links and trivia
• AEK's added-time consolation strike in their 4-2 defeat at Leverkusen on matchday two was scored by substitute Dimitris Raspas, who thus became, at 17 years and 186 days, the fifth youngest goalscorer in the UEFA Europa League, group stage to final. The record still belongs to Romelu Lukaku, aged 16 years and 218 days when he scored for Anderlecht against Ajax in the inaugural 2009/10 season.

• Ivan Tričkovski's tally of six goals for AEK in this season's UEFA Europa League qualifying phase was bettered by only two players – Aedeleke Akinyemi of Ventspils and Eirik Hestad of Molde, who both scored seven.

• Ludogorets striker Claudiu Keşerü, who opened the scoring in the 2-3 home defeat against Leverkusen on matchday one, holds the record for the fastest hat-trick scored in the UEFA Europa League, group stage to final, finding the net three times in ten minutes for FCSB against Aalborg in a 6-0 win on 18 September 2014.

The coaches
• A former Spanish international full-back who spent the vast majority of his career in Bilbao at Athletic Club, Andoni Iraola did not finish playing until November 2016, after 18 months of MLS football with New York City, and had no major coaching experience when he was announced as AEK's new manager in June 2018 in succession to compatriot Imanol Idiakez. He was a stalwart of the Athletic side that finished runners-up to Atlético Madrid in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League, and appeared in three Copa del Rey finals.

• Antoni Zdravkov is the new head coach of Ludogorets having stepped up from the assistant post he filled under previous boss Paulo Autuori, who left the club earlier this month. A former defender who began his playing career in the mid-1980s with Levski Sofia and played three times for Bulgaria, Zdravkov had a short spell as Levski coach before taking charge of Bulgaria's Under-21 side from October 2014 until June 2018, when he left to join Autuori at Ludogorets.

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