On the sixth and final matchday of this year’s Europa League group stages, SK Slavia Praha and FC Astana are set to play a crucial a game to determine who advances into the next round of the competition.
Villarreal, currently sitting atop Group A, have already secured a spot in the knockout phase after going undefeated through the their first five games, but the second spot remains open in the highly competitive group. Slavia Praha (second place) and Astana (third place) have both won two games and are only separated by one point.
The match will be played at Slavia’s home, the Eden Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, this upcoming Thursday night with kickoff at 18:00 (United Kingdom Time). The two sides fought to an entertaining 1-1 draw the first time around in Kazakhstan, and Slavia would be more than happy with the same result as the home side only needs a tie to advance. The onus then falls on FC Astana to push forward and fight for the victory.
Astana have already wrapped up their domestic league winning the Kazakhstan Premier League for fourth straight year, but the team is still trying to replicate that success in Europe. The team has played just one match in the past month, a Europa League 3-2 loss at the hands of Villarreal, so Stanimir Stoilov, manager of FC Astana, will need to keep his players focused. Astana’s Patrick Twumasi (Ghana) and Junior Kabananga (DR Congo) have had a fantastic Europa Campaign with 7 goals in 2 assists between them in group play. With so much rest, the duo should be ready to put maximum effort into winning this game.
Unlike Astana, Slavia are still right in the heart of their domestic season having played six games in the last four weeks (winning four, losing one, and drawing one). Slavia have a strong young core; players such as defender Eduard Sobol, only twenty two years old, will be trying to hold off a determined Astana attack. Slavia’s main advantage stems from their one point advantage in the standings. If the squad can keep composure at the back, then Astana will be vulnerable as they push for a win.
FC Astana, however, have performed in admirably in big games this season such as their 4-3 moral victory over Celtic in August. I believe FC Astana’s pedigree, rest, and dangerous attack will prove too much for a busy Slavia team. I predict FC Astana will make it into the next round of the Europa League with a 2-0 victory over SK Slavia Praha and confound the prevailing Europa League odds.