Preview : Anderlecht v AS Saint-Etienne – Europa League
Both teams are through, but there’s still top spot to play for as Anderlecht are on 11 points and Saint-Etienne on 9, so ASSE will go through as group winners with a win.
On the face of it, this seems unlikely. Anderlecht’s home form in this season’s Europa league (including qualifying) is 3-0, 3-1, 6-1, and they are the top-scorers in the Jupiler Pro League with 36 in 17 games (a recent 7-0 hammering of Mouscron definitely helping there). Sainte last scored 3 goals back in September. Against Lille. Also, they are in the midst of a fairly significant fixture pile-up with a midweek Coupe de la Ligue game against Nancy making it five matches in thirteen days before a well-earned winter break.
Christophe Galtier’s squad selection suggests that he is taking this seriously, however, ahead of hosting Guingamp on Sunday. Particularly in defence, there’s a first-team feel to this, although further forward there are still doubts about some players’ fitness (Vincent Pajot, Oussama Tannane) and Galtier says there’s no way that Romain Hamouma can play three matches in a week after making his first start in two months in the 2-0 loss away at Rennes at the weekend. So, there are one or two new faces sprinkled in (midfielder Habib Maiga, attackers Arnaud Nordin and Benjamin Aulagnier) who might well get a run-out.
ASSE’s shaky recent form is down, according to their coach, to an inconsistent front line as players come in and out through to injury, which has had knock-on effects in other areas. It sounds like there may have been some heated discussions as a result. But Galtier says that it is their objective to finish first in the group.
Their chances of doing that may be aided by Anderlecht’s situation: they are third in the league but only on goal difference, and face second-placed FC Bruges on Sunday, so coach René Weiler is taking a practical approach to this. In his pre-match press conference he said “our aim was to qualify, and that’s done. I particularly have in mind the league game. We will always try to win against a team with such a great history and tradition. But it’s possible that I will make changes, because this match is less important”. Nicolae Stanciu and Uros Spajic are both suspended for Sunday so those are easy decisions, but top-scorer
ASSE squad : Maisonnial, Ruffier, Moulin – Theophile-Catherine, Polomat, Lacroix, Mbengue, Pogba, Perrin, Malcuit – Pajot, Dabo, Saivet, Veretout, Maiga – Tannane, Hamouma, Monnet-Paquet, Soderlund, Nordin, Aulagnier.