Preview : AS Saint-Etienne v FSV Mainz – Europa League
Game 5 in Group C sees some jockeying for position as Saint-Etienne welcome Mainz while Anderlecht, also on eight points, travel to Gabala. ASSE are ninth in Ligue 1 and have pretty much the same form across both competitions they are in with 2 points per game, although are mildly more successful in front of both goals in Europe (scoring five and conceding three in four games, versus 14 and 11 in 13 league games).
There is a tough couple of weeks coming up with midweek rounds and the Coupe de la Ligue kicking in, which means they will play nine games in the next 27 days. But this, you have to think, will be a priority, with the possibility of sewing up qualification for the knock-out rounds. However there’s maybe some slight unease at UEFA’s round-up of who could go through and how, as this says that les Verts “qualify with a win or a 0-0 draw (as they drew 1-1 at Mainz)” – emphasis added.
However, Christophe Galtier is conscious that Mainz score goals; they have scored in every Europa game so far, even in their last match, a 6-1 hammering from Anderlecht, where Pablo De Blasis got the 1. They are also the top-scorers in the Bundesliga outside the top three, where Yunus Malli has six, and they really have to win to keep their hopes of progressing alive. Thus he says they have not prepared for the match conservatively : “if we think we can take refuge behind a hypothetical 0-0 to ensure qualification, we will go straight to the wall. We will play to score goals and to win.”
To do that, ASSE will need an occasionally frustrating attack to start firing – and playing against a defence that shipped three goals after the 89th minute to Anderlecht might be a good place to start. Mainz manager Martin Schmidt gamely said at his press conference that his team had been the better side for 85 minutes against Anderlecht, but that mostly they were trying to forget that match. His leftback Gaetan Bussmann (ex-Metz) then chipped in to say that he thinks Saint-Etienne’s fans are the best in France, which seems a strange psychological tactic.
Taking Galtier at his word, therefore, Saint-Etienne should go out on the front foot, and look to take advantage of a defence that looks decidedly porous. With Romain Hamouma still out and Robert Beric yet to recover from his injury at Gabala, things are a little complicated going forward, so he may keep the 3-5-2 they played against Nice at the weekend and look to win the midfield battle.
ASSE : Ruffier, Moulin – Theophile-Catherine, Polomat, Lacroix, Mbengue, Pogba, Perrin, Malcuit – Pajot, Dabo, Saivet, Veretout, Selnaes – Roux, Tannane, Monnet-Paquet, Soderlund, Nordin