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09 Mar 2023 / admin

Soccer Europa Conference - Play-Offs 10 March 2023

Anderlecht vs Villarreal - Match Preview

Thirty-four-time Belgian Pro League champions Anderlecht made the most of their first springtime European football in six seasons by eliminating Ludogorets at home via penalties, one of two clubs from their country (alongside Gent) to advance to the UEFA Europa Conference League’s (UECL) Round of 16 in such a manner. For their success they've drawn a date with one of Europe’s top performers in recent seasons, 2020/21 Europa League winners Villarreal!

The successful knockout round playoff tie was the continental debut of new manager Brian Riemer, who has described this pair of fixtures as “a tough job … but we are ready”. Their preparation for this match came into question after failing to win their most recent league fixtures (D1, L1), which subsequently put their chances of returning to the UECL in jeopardy. There also appears to be no such thing as a home venue advantage for Anderlecht as far as this competition is concerned, with their win-loss records across this UECL campaign the same both at home and away (W3, D1, L2).

Villarreal looks like a shadow of the club that conquered both Juventus and Bayern Munich on the way to the Champions League semi-finals last season, though wins in their last two league outings (against Getafe and Almería) at least kept them in the hunt for another season in Europe. They were the first of all teams to confirm their place in this round by winning their first four group stage games prior to Unai Emery’s departure for Aston Villa.

New boss Quique Setién’s mind turned immediately to this game after winning away to Almería, and his task is to continue their proud tradition of advancing deep into the knockout stages of European competition. The Yellow Submarine have been sunk in just one of their nine Round of 16 ties (2014/15 against Sevilla) and have displayed their travelling abilities by sealing victory in 11 of 17 UEFA matches at an opposition venue (D3, L3) since the beginning of 2020/21.

📋 Players to watchIslam Slimani will be searching for his first continental goal of the season after scoring in four of his last seven domestic appearances for Anderlecht or Brest. José Luis Morales was Villarreal’s joint top goalscorer (alongside Álex Baena) in the group stage and found the net against Almería at the weekend.

Hot stat: All but one of Villarreal’s last ten away/neutral games in UEFA playoff or knockout ties produced fewer than 2.5 total goals.

Fiorentina vs Sivasspor - Match Preview

The possibility of Fiorentina keeping the coveted UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) trophy in Italy could be realistic if the tournament so far is anything to go by. The men from Florence are the competition’s highest scorers by some margin with 21 goals from just eight games (W6, D1, L1), and that’s not to mention a five-goal return across back-to-back Serie A wins which has raised hopes of a top-half league finish, in addition to progression beyond this Round of 16 ties.

Further boosting confidence in the home camp will be Fiorentina’s rock-solid H2H record against sides from Türkiye (W5, L1). It was ironically a Turkish side (İstanbul Başakşehir) that consigned Fiorentina to second place in Group B, with only an H2H goal difference eventually sending the Italians to the knockout playoff. That afforded them the opportunity to showcase their blistering attack with an astonishing seven-goal haul (7-2 agg.) against Braga.

Visiting Sivasspor have also been so strong in an attack that no side has kept them off the scoresheet in any of their last 13 competitive games, more recently highlighted by hauls of exactly three goals in three of their last four games. The Turkish outfit finished on top of their group with fewer points than Fiorentina (11 to 13), but they’re suffering domestically with just a two-point cushion keeping them out of the Süper Lig drop zone.

Their domestic anguish will have to take a back seat for now as whatever happens, this team have made history as the first Sivasspor squad to feature in springtime European football. This will be their first match against Italian opposition too, and with just a 37% win rate in European away games (W5, D2, L7), success is certainly not guaranteed.

📋 Players to watch: Fiorentina’s Luka Jović is on course for the UECL golden boot with six goals to his name already, including braces in his last two scoring European appearances. Trying to outdo him will be Sivasspor’s creative 35-year-old midfielder Max Gradel, who has made five goal contributions across his last eight appearances (G2, A3).

Hot streak: Despite remaining undefeated at home in European football this season (W4, D1), Fiorentina are yet to keep a clean sheet.

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