DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Jozy Altidore will hope to get the start for Villarreal on their trip to Brugge while Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht need a home win over Hajduk Split if they hope to reach the knockout round.
Club Brugge - Villarreal CF
With advancement to the final 32 already secured, Jozy Altidore and his Villarreal teammates can wrap up first place in Group D if they can score a win over last-place Club Brugge on Wednesday.
The Yellow submarine took all three points in the first meeting between these two teams in October at Estadio El Madrigal, and will have the expectation to do so again on their visit to Brugge's Jan Breydel Stadium.
The Belgians have already wrapped up last place in the group, and have yet to win in this stage of the competition, with three draws and two losses to their name.
Even lacking homefield advantage, Villarreal should be considered favorites, as they have maintained a consistently strong record both in domestic and European play, and can be considered the "best of the rest" in La Liga, trailing just Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Villarreal have a nearly full squad available for the game with only injured defenders Joan Oriol and Carlos Marchena out due to respective tibia and hamstring injuries. Altidore could, however, get the start should he decide to hold some of his usual starters on the bench to keep them fresh for their ongoing domestic campaign.
Brugge will be without usual starters Stijn Stijnen, Carl Hoefkens and Karel Geraerts, all of whom have been left out of the squad with an eye towards weekend league play.
RSC Anderlecht - Hajduk Split
Sacha Kljestan should get the start for Anderlecht on Thursday evening in their do-or-die matchup at home with Group G cellar team Hajduk Split.
The Purple & White need a victory over their Croatian opposition on Thursday combined with a win by first-place Zenit St. Petersburg at AEK Athens to reach the knockout round.
Inconsistent play throughout the group stage has left them in their current precarious position, but with undefeated group leaders and recently-crowned Russian champions Zenit likely favorites in Greece, they are in a good position to still push through should they manage to take care of business at home.
Even though Hajduk came out ahead in the first meeting between these two teams, those were the only points earned by the Croatian team through their first five group contests, giving Anderlecht the upper hand in the encounter in front of the home crowd.
They are hampered with a number of injuries and question marks in the lineup; Lucas Biglia has resumed light training after suffering a hamstring injury over the weekend but is doubtful to start. Additionally, Marcin Wasilewski was forced out of practice earlier in the week with an ankle sprain while Jonathan Legear, Kanu, Cheikhou Kouyate, Ziguy Badibanga and Olivier Deschacht are all still recovering from various injuries.
Hajduk are currently reporting no injuries for the game.
Freddy Adu will not participate on Thursday as Aris Thessaloniki try to secure second place in Group A when they host Norwegian powerhouse Rosenborg BK.