Champions League preview: Standard Liège – FC Zürich

Following on from last night’s dramatic win for Racing Genk against Partizan, Jupiler Pro League runners-up Standard Liège enter the fray tonight at 1915 UK/2015 CET against FC Zürich, who were pipped to the post by FC Basel in Switzerland.

Standard coach José Riga has been hit with a major blow this morning. Central defender Eliaquim Mangala is on the verge of a dream transfer to Valencia and as such will not play this evening. Indeed, by the time the game kicks off, he could have signed for los Che.  Mangala formed a superb central-defensive axis with Kanu last season and was considered to be the ideal candidate to partner former Lille defender Adil Rami at the back. Although Steven Defour is in the squad, it is unlikely he will play and I expect Yoni Buyens to debut in central midfield.

The only competitive fixture of the season so far – the Supercup defeat to Genk – gave some reasons for optimism but exposed other areas of concern. Standard began well and were well-organised but once Genk went down to 10, they were devoid of creativity and lacked someone who could take charge of the match and press home the numerical advantage. Mehdi Carcela is now able to run but is far from being fully fit while the mercurial Franck Berrier  Nacho Gonzalez is a player who could solve this problem but he is not yet 100% fit though he may play some part off the bench.

Les Rouches encounter a Zürich side who already have two Swiss Super League games under their belt…and two defeats. The opening day saw a 1-0 defeat away to Sion before a 3-2 home defeat to Servette. They should have had a point against Sion but for Xavier Margairaz’s woeful attempt at a Panenka while they were 2-0 up against Servette and threw it away. José Riga is right to say that Urs Fischer’s men have not yet shown their true potential and indeed many in Switzerland now believe that FCZ are a stronger team than Basel.

Admir Mehmedi, who is a deep-lying striker as capable of creating as he is of scoring, is in my view the best player on the team. He has impressed for Switzerland and is arguably the biggest talent at the moment, Xherdan Shaqiri excepted. He has an excellent rapport with Alphonse and Standard will need to be wary. Left-sided attacker Dusan Djuric is another outstanding player and he could cause Daniel Opare problems, particuarly as the former Real Madrid B right-back only returned to full-training yesterday. If it’s Djuric v Goreux, there could be a lot of work for Mbaye Leye to do!!

Zürich look to be a team who will create chances but who are also vulnerable at the back. Looking at the highlights of the Seville game, they do not look particularly solid down their right-hand side and I expect Pocognoli and van Damme to have plenty of joy throughout.  As with Genk and Nemanja Rnic last night, Standard will come up against a familiar face in their former centre-half Mathieu Béda. The Frenchman had a superb short spell at Sclessin before departing for 1.Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern. He could well be dangerous, as twice he played for Sint-Truiden against Standard and twice he scored!

CONFIRMED TEAMS:

Standard: Bolat – Opare, Kanu, Felipe, Pocognoli – Leye, Camara, Buyens. van Damme – Nong, Tchité.

Subs: Moris, Goreux, Belhocine, Benteke, Nacho Gonzalez, Boukhriss, Michy Batshuayi

FC Zürich: Leoni – Philippe Koch, Béda, Teixeira, Rodriguez – Aegerter, Margairaz, Nikci – Alphonse, Mehmedi, Djuric.

Subs:  Guatelli, Raphael Koch, Kukuruzovic, Buff, Magnin, Schönbächler, Drmic

Prediction: Standard Liège 2-1 FC Zürich

FCZ have a lot more in the tank than they have shown of late and are certainly capable of scoring. However, I think that the atmosphere of Sclessin will lift the home side and they will also take some inspiration from Genk last night.

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