Preview : AS Saint-Etienne v Gabala FC
While Mainz and Anderlecht slug it out elsewhere in Group C, Saint-Etienne will hope that they can continue the Europa league trend of putting three past Gabala, to stay in contention for progression from the group.
Les Verts are ninth in Ligue 1 and looking more than a little patchy at times, with a defence made up of twigs, string and defensive midfielders, and a worrying reliance on injury-time equalisers from Nolan Roux. At the weekend, this got them a point against newly promoted Dijon at home; in their previous Europa game, ditto against the slightly more fearsome Anderlecht.
Gabala are currently leading the Azerbaijani Premier League, and drew 1-1 away at second-place Inter Baku last weekend. Pointless so far in Europe, they may understandably be eyeing this match as an opportunity to do something about that. They were rather conservative in knocking Lille out in the third qualifying round, but then went on to beat Maribor 4-1 on aggregate in the play-off. Away at Anderlecht they lost 3-1, but put up a spirited fight in their second match against Mainz, losing 3-2. Their assertiveness seems to show best at home, but they do like to play on the counter, and are pacy up the wings. However, they will be without several players, including league top-scorer Bagaliy Dabo (ex-Istres and Creteil) and midfielders Nika Kvekveskiri, Rashad Sadigov, and Elvin Jamalov doubtful.
The visiting defence looks, well, permeable, so the question will be whether Saint-Etienne can take advantage of that. Things are looking up a little, injury-wise, as Cheikh Mbengue and Loic Perrin were both back at the weekend so the defence should look less cobbled-together than it has done, although Stephane Ruffier is still suspended. In attack, Romain Hamouma is out again, but otherwise Christophe Galtier has a full complement to call upon.
Dabo (Gabala’s Bagaliy, rather than ASSE’s Bryan) said in a recent interview that in quality terms the Azeri league is a mixture of Ligue 2 and National, but that “there are two or three teams, like us or Inter Baku, who could play in Ligue 1”. The visitors may have to rely on that bullish approach in a match where the home side are very heavy favourites.
Saint-Etienne : Maisonnial, Moulin – Theophile-Catherine, Lacroix, Mbengue, Pogba, Perrin, Malcuit – Pajot, Dabo, Saivet, Veretout, Selnaes – Roux, Tannane, Monnet-Paquet, Soderlund, Beric, Nordin