Europa League: 5 Matches to Watch on Thursday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

Europa League: 5 Matches to Watch on Thursday

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    Thursday marks the third day of matches in the UEFA Europa League.

    While the competition does not get the high level of publicity that the Champions League receives, there are plenty of interesting matches to watch on Thursday.

    Some clubs are already fighting for their lives in their groups and need a win to stay alive, while some clubs are already looking to secure their spots in the knockout round.

    Here are five matches that you should keep an eye on Thursday during Europa League play.

Liverpool vs. Anzhi

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    Liverpool's match with Anzhi at Anfield in Group A on Thursday will come in the middle of an emotional week for the EPL club.

    The Reds are coming off of their first home win of the season against Reading on Saturday and they play Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday.

    Liverpool will have to keep their focus on the Russian Premier League leaders as first place in the group will be on the line.

    Anzhi are in great form going to Anfield as they have won seven straight league matches and they have scored two or more goals in six of those matches.

    The Russian leaders will likely use this match as a statement to the rest of Europe that all their big spending over the past two years is finally turning into success on the pitch.

Racing Genk vs. Sporting Lisbon

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    Group G has been very unpredictable through two matches, with Belgian club Racing Genk in first place with four points and 2011/12 semifinalists Sporting Lisbon in last place with just one point.

    Genk are in third place in the Belgian first division and have not lost a single game in any competition this season.

    However, they have been known to draw in quite a few matches, with seven on the season.

    Sporting are struggling mightily in Portugal at the moment as they sit in 12th place in the table with just six points.

    The misleading fact about Sporting's league position is that they have only played in six league matches compared to the 11 that Genk have played in Belgium.

    A win for Genk would put them on top of the group and make them the favorite to advance to the knockout stage.

    But if Sporting pull off the win on the road, it could not only put them in the top two in the group but it could also kick-start their sluggish start to the season.

Dnipro vs. Napoli

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    One of the major surprises of the group stage so far has been Ukrainian side Dnipro.

    Dnipro won their first two Group F matches to earn first place so far under the guidance of manager Juande Ramos, who won the competition when it was known as the UEFA Cup in 2006 and 2007 with Sevilla.

    Ramos and company will host Napoli. who sit in third place in the group at the moment.

    The Partenopei are coming off of a tough defeat to Juventus in Serie A on Saturday and will look to rebound with a commanding road win in Europa League play.

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Marseille

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    Borussia Monchengladbach have been struggling as of late and are in need of a win at home to correct their domestic and continental form.

    In their past three Bundesliga matches, the German side have given up nine goals and have been shut out twice against Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen.

    After a strong start to the season in Ligue 1, Marseille have slipped up and are suddenly in poor form as well.

    In their past three domestic matches, Marseille have only earned one point—in a 2-2 draw with PSG—and lost twice to minnows Troyes and to fifth-placed Valenciennes.

    With both clubs searching for a win to correct their recent form, look for Thursday's Group C match in Germany to be hard fought for the full 90 minutes.

Lyon vs. Athletic Bilbao

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    Last time Lyon took to the pitch in the Europa League, they won in stoppage time against Hapoel Kiryat Shmona on the road.

    With that win, the French club moved to the top of the Group I table with six points.

    Since their success in Israel, Lyon have taken four points from two Ligue 1 matches and have stayed close to league leaders PSG, as they sit one point behind them in third place.

    Athletic Bilbao are in a completely different scenario than their hosts on Thursday.

    The La Liga club sit in 17th place domestically and are in last place in Group I.

    A win over a European superpower like Lyon could boost the morale of a club that have struggled to find any success after reaching the Europa League final last season.