DAVID SMITH - Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Europa League group stage is kicking off, with Terrence Boyd and Rapid Vienna taking on Swiss neighbors FC Thun, as well as Aron Johannsson hoping to lead AZ to success in Israel against Maccabi Haifa.
FC Thun - Rapid Vienna
Terrence Boyd should be in Rapid Vienna's starting lineup on Thursday when they head west to face Thun. Rapid are slowly coming back into form after a short dry spell pushed them back towards the middle of the Austrian Bundesliga standings.
Last weekend's commanding 4-0 road win over Wacker Innsbruck - a game in which Boyd netted his fifth goal of the new season - brought Rapid within striking distance of the league's top three, and the momentum will certainly benefit them in their quest for an opening win in Group G play.
Thun, meanwhile, are on a similar bit of roll, already seeing their team click at this early stage of the season.
They successfully navigated their way to the group stage from the second round of qualifying, and have won their last three games across all competitions - Europa League, Swiss Super League and Swiss Cup - by a combined 10-1 score.
Neither team is reporting any absences.
Tottenham Hotspur - Tromsø IL
Brad Friedel has a good chance to be the starting keeper for Tottenham when they host relative Norwegian minnows Tromsø IL on Thursday evening at White Hart Lane.
Friedel returned to his duties as Tottenham's cup-competition keeper in the second leg of their play-off round series, keeping Georgian team Dinamo Tbilisi off the scoreboard to wrap up an 8-0 aggregate win.
Spurs should be undoubted favorites for another heavy win over Tromsø, who would already be heavily overmatched even were they not suffering through the doldrums of a near-meltdown in domestic play.
The main question will be whether Tottenham coach Andre Villas-Boas will use the primary weapons on his first-team squad or choose to rest them ahead of what looks to be a breakneck schedule of six games over the next 17 days.
New Spurs attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen, who showed an immediate impact in his debut appearance for Tottenham over the weekend, could get his first start as he continues to be integrated into the first-team squad.
Villas-Boas has nearly a full complement of players to choose from, with Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and Aaron Lennon the only players out injured.
Tromsø are a club in crisis as the Norwegian domestic season nears its end, winning just once since late June and spared from their league's relegation places only by way of goal differential.
They did beat Mikkel Diskerud's Rosenborg over the weekend, but Tromsø's attention could be drawn more towards their waning league campaign rather than Thursday's test in London.
The team should only be missing defender Hans Norbye, who will sit out after suffering a mild concussion over the weekend.
Maccabi Haifa - AZ Alkmaar
Aron Johannsson and AZ will try to get their Europa League campaign off on the right foot on Thursday when they travel to the Israeli coast to take on the Greens.
AZ have been a mixed bag in recent weeks but will have high hopes of taking a result on Thursday. They recently broke free of a run of lackluster results to smash Go Ahead Eagles, 3-0, over the weekend.
Johannsson scored his fourth goal of the season in that game and will like his chances to add another tally to his one that was already scored in the Europa League qualifying rounds in Greece.
Haifa are two games into their season and are coming off a disappointing loss at Ashdod. They twice held the lead in that game, but a second-half surrender saw them come out on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline.
Haifa are not reporting any absences, while AZ will be missing suspended midfielder Markus Henriksen.