Norwegian newcomers Sarpsborg can eliminate perennial group stage contenders Beşiktaş with victory on matchday five.
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European colts Sarpsborg are in the thick of the race for qualification from Group I and will eliminate continental thoroughbreds Beşiktaş with victory in Norway on matchday five.
• Newcomers to Europe this season, Sarpsborg have already played 12 games in this UEFA Europa League campaign. Having gained their first group stage win at home to Genk on matchday two (3-1), they drew both Scandinavian derbies with Malmö 1-1 and are level on points (and goal difference) with the Swedish side – two behind the front-runners from Belgium.
• Beşiktaş currently prop up the group table with four points, having collected just one from their past three fixtures – in a 1-1 draw on matchday four away to Genk, who had beaten them 4-2 in Istanbul a fortnight earlier, inflicting a second successive loss after they had gone down 2-0 at Malmö. A further defeat in Norway will knock out Beşiktaş.
• Beşiktaş beat Sarpsborg 3-1 in Istanbul on the visitors' group stage bow, Dutchmen Ryan Babel and Jeremain Lens both finding the net. There had been no previous matches between the two clubs, nor between Sarpsborg and any other Turkish team.
• Although undefeated in five home fixtures against different Norwegian clubs (W4 D1), Beşiktaş have struggled to export that form to Norway, with no wins, three defeats and just two goals scored in their four previous visits.
• 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, Sarpsborg 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 are unbeaten at home in Europe, their six fixtures having yielded four wins and two draws, with 11 goals scored and just four conceded. The matchday three draw with Malmö was the first of those games in which they did not take the lead.
• 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.
• Beşiktaş are competing again 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 won all three away fixtures in last season's UEFA Champions League group – at Porto, Monaco and RB Leipzig – to top their section for the first time, but they now have just one win from their last six European games outside Istanbul (D2 L3). They have picked up at least one win on the road in each of their four previous UEFA Europa League group campaigns, their overall away record W5 D5 L4.
Links and trivia
• Lens, who scored Beşiktaş's third goal in their opening win against Sarpsborg, became only the third player to make 50 appearances in the UEFA Europa League, group stage to final, on matchday two. The Dutchman has previously featured in the competition for PSV Eindhoven, Dynamo Kyiv and Fenerbahçe and is now, with 52 appearances, second on the all-time list behind Daniel Carriço (57).
• Sarpsborg are one of four clubs who began their successful journey to the group stage in the first qualifying round, the others being Apollon Limassol, FC København and Rangers. They are also one of five making their debut this season in the UEFA Europa League proper, along with Akhisar, Dudelange, Jablonec and Spartak Trnava.
• 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.
• 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.