4923: UEFA Cup Group A Preview- Ever
by : Hugh Larkin
The UEFA Cup draw could have been friendlier for Everton but the way the matches have fallen makes their job easier. It would be a huge shock if David Moyes side didn’t finish in the top three places and advance to the knockout rounds, though there are some good teams in this section.
LarissaThe Greek side- one of an incredible five teams from that country to make it through to the groups- are not to be taken lightly. They have already caused grief in the North West by eliminating Blackburn Rovers.
The damage to Blackburn was done in the away leg of their tie though, so Everton will be glad to welcome the team from Thessaly to Goodison. Larissa are not one of the traditional powerhouses of Greek football, though they did break the big club monopoly to win a title in 1988.
Everton fans may see a familiar name on the team sheet. Ibrahim Bakayoko joined over the summer and the Ivory Coast international had a moderate spell with Everton back in the late 1990s.
FC NurnbergEverton have away trips to the two closest destinations in the group and their first jaunt is to Nurnberg of the Bundesliga. Like the Blues, the German side had a tough battle to reach the groups, only squeezing past Rapid Bucharest on away goals.
Nurnbeg have the usual core of German players supported by a wide variety of overseas imports, including three Australians. Tomas Galasek performs the holding role in midfield as he has for the Czech Republic and Marco Englehardt alongside him has 3 German caps.
Up front is often Russian striker Ivan Saenko and they have acquired Angelos Charisteas, a member of Greece’s 2004 European Championship winning side.
The club have made a poor start to their Bundeliga campaign and sit one off the bottom at present. Everton will feel that they can get something from their trip there.
Zenit St PetersburgDavid Moyes will be glad to avoid the longer journey to Russia and he may give Sammy Lee a call at Bolton as the Wanderers played- and beat- the Russian side in 2005/06 at this stage.
Zenit have become regulars in the UEFA Cup with a decent record that shows more games won than lost. However, they do play more qualifiers against lower ranked sides and this year they have come past Zlate Moravce of Slovakia and then Standard Liege of Belgium.
Zenit have some interesting imports such as ex-Rangers man Fernando Ricksen, Turkish striker Fatih Tekke and a couple of South Korean stars. Forward Andrey Arshevin is the top home-based player with over 20 caps for his country.
They are the League leaders in Russia at the moment and probably a better side than the one Bolton faced two years ago- it’s greatly to Everton’s advantage to meet them at Goodison.
AZ AlkmaarEverton finish off with the short hop across the North Sea to take on the side that spread excitement through the Eredivise last year only to miss out on all the big prizes at the death.
Almost inevitably, AZ have had a sticky start to this season and are lying mid table in Holland. The inspirational Shota Arveladze left in the summer but this is still a team that can produce some breathtaking, progressive football. Everton will not want to go to Alkmaar needing a result to qualify.
Louis Van Gaal is still in charge and the former captain of the Dutch under-21 squad Stijn Schaars is the midfield inspiration.
VerdictEverton need to make their qualification points in the first two games before taking on the more difficult pair of ties to close. An opening win over Larissa would provide control and a minimum four points in the requirement from the first two matches, otherwise things could become twitchy.
While Zenit and AZ are hard teams to take on, David Moyes would still feel Everton can match them and get points from those games if required.
[Ed: For qualification every team that got 5 or more points last season qualified for the round of 32; and three teams (Bayer Leverkusen, Lens and Fenerbahce) qualified with just 4 points. Two home wins should guarantee progess.]