It’s UEFA Cup Time…Hooray!

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Jodo takes a look at the Premiership clubs left battling to bring home some European silverware.

After another exciting round of Premiership fixtures at the weekend its European football time again and Thursday sees the UEFA Cup groups get under way. Quite the actual point of the group format, only UEFA really knows, but with 40 teams entering and 32 clubs progressing to the next round it seems to be evidently more concerned with monetary reasons as opposed to football.

None the less, there will be 3 clubs representing the Premiership at this stage of the competition after West Ham’s loss at the hands of Italians Palermo.

Blackburn Rovers travel to Poland to take on Wisla Krakow with an early kick off time (3.45pm), having overcome Red Bull Salzburg in the first round. Rovers should be full of confidence for the trip to the Wisla Stadium, having stretched their unbeaten run to seven games with a solid draw against Liverpool on Saturday. Blackburn have been placed in arguably one of the easier groups of this year’s competition and Mark Hughes must be secretly in a very confident mood after being matched with French Ligue 1 relative newcomers AS Nancy, FC Basle from Switzerland, European stalwarts Feyenoord and the Poles of Krakow. Rovers will be looking to the European experience of senior players like Tugay, Brad Friedel and Benni McCarthy to guide them through their opening trip to Central Europe. One face who may be familiar to English football fans is Wisla midfielder Jacob Burns. The Australian never really made the grade at Leeds United before being shunted to Yorkshire rivals Barnsley, where he was a regular starter. With fellow Australians Brett Emerton and Lucas Neill sure to make an appearance, Rovers will be hoping that it’s a case of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, 1-2-3 points!

Winners of the competition in its first year as the Uefa Cup in 1971, Tottenham Hotspur, also begin with an away fixture. Martin Jol takes his men to Turkey and the BJK Inonu Stadium for what seems as the most difficult fixture of the evening for the Premier League participants. Kick off time for Spurs is 6pm as they look to get their European campaign off to a good start against Besiktas JK. After Sarurday’s fixture at Villa Park, Tottenham fans must be hoping to see Colombia and Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel line up for the Turkish outfit, just to help ease the burden on their misfiring forward line. Rumours that Paul Robinson flew to Turkey early in order to check the pitch surface remain as yet unconfirmed. Group B could well be defined as the obligatory ‘group of death’ in this year’s competition. It features, in addition to Besiktas and Spurs, Dinamo Bucuresti, Club Brugge and the club that Bulgarian hit-man Dimitar Berbatov spent 6 successful seasons including a Champions League final, Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans have not had the best of starts to their domestic campaign though, lingering in the bottom half and Spurs will look to take full advantage.

Newcastle United complete the trio of English clubs in the groups competing on Thursday, also facing Turkish opposition. Fenerbahçe SK travel to the North East for an evening kick off (8pm), knowing that every point is crucial in the race to finish top of the group. The Geordies will be looking to finish above their Turkish rivals in the hope that they avoid the tougher task of facing a team dropping out of the Champions League in the next round. Manager Glenn Roeder will see this home fixture as an ideal opportunity to stake their claim for qualification at the top of the group. Newcastle’s group (Group H) also features West Ham’s conquerors Palermo, Spanish side Celta Vigo and the supposed lightweights, Eintracht Frankfurt. At first glance, a position of 10th in the Bundesliga 1 does little to alter an opinion of the Germans being the whipping boys of the group, but upon closer inspection the men from Frankfurt still remain unbeaten this season, albeit with 1 victory and 6 draws. Shola Ameobi will need to bring his shooting boots with him to Germany at the end of November. The Uefa Cup has acted as somewhat of a welcome distraction for the Magpies this season, indeed their last recorded victory came in this competition at home to Levadia Tallinn last month. The Toon Army would settle for a similar outcome on Thursday night.


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