Europa League football is back this midweek, and Matthew Richards looks ahead to the Franco-Ukrainian clash between Dynamo Kiev and Bordeaux.
As the round of 32 of the Europa League rolls into town, Ligue 1 finds itself with two representatives still in contention. No doubt the ‘glamour tie’ of the two sees Olympique Lyonnais face the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur, although such a thing won’t bother Francis Gillot one bit. Les Girondins have been more than happy to plod along under the radar this season, steadily improving as they progress through both the Europa League as well as the domestic season. Their opponents on Thursday night are however certainly a side with European pedigree and could provide a genuine threat.
Coming off the back of a frustrating loss to AC Ajaccio on Saturday may not be the best preparation for a mid-week European game, and does slightly blur the fact that their form over the last three months or so has been impressive. Bordeaux have mustered 11 wins, five draws and have lost only four times in their last 20 appearances. Despite fluctuating league positions they’ve hit a good stride in the Europa League losing only once in a group including Newcastle, Club Bruges and Maritimo. Their 2-0 home win over ‘Ligue 1′s 21st club’ Newcastle (we agreed on Chateauneuf, non? – ed) in their last group game wasn’t a bad way to finish the group stage although Alan Pardew’s side was an extremely weak ensemble. So with a solid group phase behind them, who are the men to keep an eye out for now we’ve got to the business end of the competition?
No doubt the loss of their leading goalscorer Yoan Gouffran is a blow to their fire power, but Gillot still has potential game-changers in his ranks. Polish international Ludovic Obraniak has without question been a big part of Bordeaux’s sustained form despite his recent absence through injury. Back to full fitness, Obraniak is a threat in behind the forwards, pulling the strings and dictating the majority of the side’s attacking moves. The French-born Pole has an eye for goal, often contributing to the team’s success with some top-draw finishes. Obviously the loss of Gouffran has seen more responsibility directly or indirectly thrust upon the Bordeaux midfielder but it’s a responsibility that must be shared with the likes of Jaroslav Plasil and Henri Saivet.
In the latter’s case the 22-year-old forward is certainly a player with talent and has been touted from a very young age to be a success, but the feeling remains that he is in need of a good season to really cement his place as consistent attacking threat. Saivet has had a reasonable season, so far chipping in with six goals in 21 appearances, but much like Obraniak added responsibility will now be placed on his shoulders. Whether or not the youngster can deal with such a thing may well play a big part in the close to Bordeaux’s season. Individualism hasn’t got the side this far, however, and that collective team effort needs to continue to maintain the solidity they’ve shown in the last 3 months.
If there’s a side in European football that know all about collective effort, that has to be Dynamo Kyiv. They may no longer be the great European power house they once were under Valeriy Lobanovskyi but they are most certainly still a side to be taken seriously. Kyiv arrive in the round of 32 following their exit from a Champions League group featuring Paris Saint-Germain and FC Porto. The side recorded a win and a draw against Dinamo Zagreb as well as holding Porto in a goalless affair in Ukraine, but were ultimately dumped into Europe’s ‘lesser’ competition thanks to two defeats at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG. If there was a statistic that could give hope to Bordeaux fans then it is most certainly their form against French sides in Europe. Out of 14 games they have only managed three wins, three draws and eight defeats with five of those defeats coming on French soil. Such a thing should not distract Bordeaux from the fact they have some serious quality in their ranks, however.
Africa Cup of Nations winner Brown Ideye had a very good tournament for Nigeria and returns to lead the line. The forward won’t be alone, as he has a supporting cast featuring two well-known names to European football fans. Niko Kranjcar and Miguel Veloso are two players with vast amounts of competitive European experience for both club and country. Despite not being the major players they once promised to be, these two men certainly have enough about them to boss the first leg in Kiev.
As well as their on-field danger, Dynamo manager Oleh Blokhin is a man who knows both the club and this sort of competition extremely well. The former Ukraine manager was a Cup Winner’s Cup winner twice in his playing career as well as UEFA Super Cup winner in 1975. Blokhin understands the importance of such a competition and the proud heritage of the club better than anyone which makes him a ruthless foe in such surroundings.
Despite all these dangers, Bordeaux are still more than capable of getting a positive result in Ukraine come Thursday. The tired clichés of travel and cold conditions will no doubt be wheeled out at some point if things go wrong but that shouldn’t excuse a poor result. To predict a win would probably be bold but an away goal and a draw seems more than achievable to me. With the recent Ajaccio result aside, Bordeaux have shown themselves to be a good, unfussy side who can get results. If the razzle and the dazzle is set to take place in north London from a French point of view, then Gillot and co would do well to put in a workmanlike shift and get the result needed with minimum fanfare.