UEFA Europa League 2012: Breaking Down This Week's Biggest Matchups

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2012

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17:  Luis Suarez (C) of Liverpool is congratulated by team-mates Raheem Sterling (R) and Jose Enrique after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Wigan Athletic at Anfield on November 17, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Intrigue will be at an early-season apex this week, as squads competing in the 2012 UEFA Europa League will look for critical wins in Week 5 action.

Thus far, the Europa League has seen its fair share of upsets, leaving the group standings a little more jumbled than expected. While that is disconcerting for some of those teams in danger, it also creates fantastic matchups for fans.

Whether competing simply to stay alive in the standings or for their groups' supremacy, these top-tier matchups will certainly help the middle of the week go by fast. 

With that in mind, here is a look at a few of this week's biggest matches on the Europa League slate.

Lazio vs. Tottenham 

A battle for Group J supremacy will take place on Thursday when Lazio and Tottenham descend upon Stadio Olimpico.

This match will take special prescience because Paul Gascoigne, who played for both clubs in his illustrious career, will be on hand to watch his former teams do battle. 

Lazio comes into the match leading the group, having won twice and drawn twice in its first four fixtures. It's no surprise that most of those outcomes have been dictated by the brilliant performance of the club's defense. 

In the four matches, the Biancocelesti has given up just one goal and have gotten inspired play in net as well.

Tottenham, meanwhile, has stayed alive in group play by winning once and drawing three times. Spurs looked dominant in their last match Europa League match, a 3-1 victory over NK Maribor, but have struggled recently in Premier League play. 

If Tottenham can fix its defensive woes, we might be in for another hard-fought match like the teams' 0-0 draw on Sept. 20. But if recent history is any indication, look for Lazio to come out on top.

Score Prediction: Lazio 1, Tottenham 0

Liverpool vs. Young Boys

Following a relatively shocking loss to Anzhi Makhachkala in its last Europa League match, Liverpool has ceded control of Group A and will desperately need a win to re-establish its dominance.

Young Boys, on the other hand, has simply taken advantage of Udinese twice to get its six points. 

Nevertheless, the Reds had a difficult time with Young Boys in the teams' first go-around, as they came roaring from behind thanks to two Jonjo Shelvey goals to come away with a 5-3 win on Sept. 20.

That should give Young Boys the confidence to put up a good fight on Thursday. Raul Marcelo Bobadilla has been absolutely brilliant and could once again pose a tough threat around goal.

Nevertheless, there's just too much talent on the Reds' side for them to lose. This should be and will be a mismatch, with Liverpool regaining its confidence and striking a little revenge in the process. 

Score Prediction: Liverpool 3, Young Boys 1

Inter Milan vs. FC Rubin Kazan

With both tied with 10 points coming into this week's slate of games, Group H superiority is on the line for Inter Milan and FC Rubin Kazan.

The two squads have made a habit out of eviscerating their fellow group competition, as both come into the fixture with three wins and the teams' only draw coming against each other.

FC Rubin Kazan has been particularly brilliant defensively, finishing three of its matches with clean sheets. An efficient, smart-minded club, the Tatary will need to keep their great play on defense up against an Inter Milan team firing on all cylinders offensively.

The Black and Blues have scored nine goals in their four matches thus far and have a barrage of brilliant players who can hit the back of the net. Though Inter Milan is coming off a rather unfortunate 2-2 Serie A draw against Cagliari, that frustration may boil over into a motivated performance against its Group H counterpart.

When teams this talented come together, it's always a tough prediction. But look for Inter to come out on top, as FC Rubin Kazan struggles to match its two-goal effort from the first meeting.

Score Prediction: Inter Milan 2, FC Rubin Kazan 1