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Europa League preview: Brighton look to join Liverpool in last-16

The final matches of the Europa League group stages take place tonight with Liverpool, West Ham, Brighton, and Rangers aiming for qualification. 

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As the final matches of the Europa League group stage campaign nears, anticipation and excitement are building for Liverpool, West Ham United, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Rangers as all clubs are a step away from qualification. 

Here’s what to expect from the group-stage fixtures of the respective British clubs 

Liverpool vs Union SG

Liverpool travel to Lotto Park to face Belgian side, Union Saint-Gilloise in their Group E fixture in the Europa League group stage.

Following a goalless draw against Toulouse on matchday five, Union SG’s aspiration of reaching successive knockout stages in the Europa League seem to be out of reach as they currently sit third in Group E, three points behind second-place placed Toulouse.

Even if Toulouse succumbs to a defeat in their final encounter against fourth place LASK Linz, Union SG are still poised for the playoffs even if they secure victory against Liverpool due to an underwhelming goals record against Toulouse.

In the event of Union SG securing the third position in the group, they would transition to the Europa Conference League playoffs. However, a potential fourth-place finish would result in their elimination from European competitions.

Les Unionistes now aim to secure back-to-back victories at home in the Europa League, having triumphed 2-1 against LASK Linz in October. Overcoming Liverpool might pose a formidable challenge, considering their track record of three consecutive losses against English opponents, including a 2-0 defeat at Anfield in the reverse fixture in September.

Liverpool approach the final fixture of Group E with confidence, having already secured the top spot in the group, rendering the outcome of this game inconsequential for their progression to the next rounds.

Despite a 3-2 loss to Toulouse on matchday four, The Reds secured a spot in the Europa League last 16 with a game to spare, showcasing their resilience with a commanding 4-0 home triumph over LASK Linz on matchday five. Their lead in the group is now unassailable, sitting four points ahead of Toulouse in second place.

Liverpool fans will find it difficult to secure Europa League tickets for this game as Lotto Park only holds around 20,000 fans and the Reds have a small allocation in the away end, but the passionate home support should ensure there is a good atmosphere tonight.

Team News

Union Saint-Gilloise face the challenge of playing without midfielder Charles Vanhoutte, suspended for one match due to yellow card accumulation. In his absence, Mathias Rasmussen might secure a start alongside Lazare Amani and Cameron Puertas, both part of the engine room in the reverse fixture against Liverpool.

Top scorer Mohamed Amoura, who netted a brace in the 3:1 win over domestic rivals, RC Sporting Charleroi, is anticipated to lead the attack alongside Gustaf Nilsson. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Alexis Mac Allister is racing against time to recover from a knee injury for a potential reunion with his brother, Kevin Mac Allister who is expected to start in defence for Alexander Blessin’s side.

The Reds are likely to feature a rotated squad, with Caoimhin Kelleher, Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konate, Curtis Jones, and Ben Doak pushing for starts.

Key players like Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah might be rested, considering Liverpool have already secured a spot in the last 16, with an eye on the upcoming clash against Manchester United in the Premier League.

Brighton vs Marseille

Brighton and Hove Albion welcome Olympique Marseille to the Amex Stadium in their final Europa League group stage tie with the top spot in Group B all for grasp.

Brighton are having a stellar maiden Europa League campaign having been drawn into a tough group with European regulars such as Ajax, Marseille, and AEK Athens. Despite going winless in their first two matches which included a loss and a draw, The Seagulls have rallied back to record three straight victories on the throat, sealing a place in the knockout stages.

Roberto De Zerbi’s team put up a spirited performance at the Orange Velodrome in the reverse fixture where they rallied from two goals down to secure a 2:2 draw. The Seagulls have since gone on a seven-game unbeaten streak at home and will aim to extend their record with a victory over Les Olympiens on Thursday.

The Seagulls currently sit second in group B standings with ten points, just one point behind table leaders, Marseille who lead with 11 goals. Finishing first means Brighton automatically qualify to the round of 16. Hence, the Seagulls will aim to topple Marseille to occupy the first spot in order to avoid a round of 32 play-offs against one of the returning Champions League teams.

Team News

Brighton face an extensive injury list, with players like Solly March, Julio Enciso, Pervis Estupinan, Danny Welbeck, Ansu Fati, Tariq Lamptey, and Adam Webster sidelined. Joel Veltman is set to return at right-back, and either Jan Paul van Hecke or Igor Julio might partner Lewis Dunk in central defense.

Billy Gilmour and Kaoru Mitoma aim for a spot in the starting XI, while Joao Pedro, with five goals in as many Europa League games, could partner or replace Evan Ferguson in the attack.

Gennaro Gattuso is without Joaquin Correa and Valentin Rongier due to ankle and knee injuries, respectively, while Geoffrey Kondogbia is doubtful for the trip to Amex Stadium.

Jonathan Clauss is available after suspension and will likely feature at right-back in a four-man defense, including Renan Lodi, Samuel Gigot, and Chancel Mbemba.

Aubameyang, in excellent form with seven goals and three assists in his last four games, is expected to lead Marseille’s frontline, aiming to reach the 30-goal mark in the Europa League.

West Ham vs Freiburg 

West Ham United host SC Freiburg in a top-of-the-table affair at the London Stadium, as both teams will look to top Group A standings leading to automatic qualification to the round of 16.

Having already secured victory over the German side in the first leg at the Europa-Park Stadion, The Hammers will aim to repeat their first-leg feat or at least avoid defeat to solidify their place on top of the group.

Although a draw would be enough to secure advancement to the round of 16, David Moyes anticipates an improved showing following their narrow 1-0 win over Backa Topola. In contrast, Freiburg’s dominant 5-0 victory against Olympiacos has kept them level on points with West Ham. Despite West Ham’s 2-1 win in Germany, Freiburg must secure all three points in London to claim the top spot in Group A.

Although Freiburg sit eighth in the German Bundesliga standing, Christian Streich’s men are arriving in better form having secured a hard-fought 1:0 victory over Wolfsburg courtesy of a 74th-minute strike by Michael Gregoritsch.

In contrast, The Hammers suffered a heavy 5:0 thumping at the hands of London rivals, Fulham last weekend and will hope to improve their performance and most importantly the scoreline when they face an in-form Freiburg side.

Team News

Emerson Palmieri and Said Benrahma are potential returns to the starting lineup as David Moyes will aim to start his best starting 11.

Edson Alvarez might feature in midfield after recovering from illness. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola could replace Lukasz Fabianski if he recovers from a wrist injury, while Michail Antonio remains sidelined with a knee problem. Barring fitness concerns.

Freiburg’s head coach, Christian Streich may opt for the same lineup that secured a notable victory against Wolfsburg over the weekend with Michael Gregoritsch set to lead the line in attack having scored five goals in his last three games.

Real Betis vs Rangers

Rangers travel to Spain to face Real Betis at the Estádio Benito Villamarín in what looks to be a top-of-the-table decider in the final group stage fixture in group C.

The Gers currently sit second in the group with 8 points, one point adrift group leader, Betis. With Sparta Prague trailing them with 7 points, this clash is a must-win match for Philippe Clement’s side as defeat to Betis could see Prague leapfrog them to third place.

Over the weekend, Rangers secured an impressive 3:1 win over domestic rivals, Dundee United extending theIr unbeaten streak to 13 matches. Rangers will look to extend their run with a victory over Betis on Thursday to secure qualification into the knockout stages.

Team News

Manuel Pellegrini’s team have been plagued with injuries in midfield, with Nabil Fekir and William Carvalho sidelined, while Guido Rodriguez is struggling with a niggling ankle injury.

Hector Bellerin is available after serving a domestic ban. Defensive concerns mount with Marc Bartra and Youssouf Sabaly out amid registration restrictions.

Lack of depth in defence might force Pellegrini to utilize on loan Leeds United midfielder, Marc Roca in a defensive role.

For Rangers, Philippe Clement will miss Tom Lawrence, Ryan Jack, and Nicolas Raskin in midfield, along with injured striker Danilo. Cyriel Dessers is expected to start upfront. Jose Cifuentes, despite his weekend red card, is available. Ross McCausland, who impressed recently, may return to the lineup.

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