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Focus on British teams’ opponents in Europa League

Swansea City v Stoke City – Premier League – Liberty Stadium
(Image credit: David Davies)

British clubs are back in Europa League action on Thursday with the fourth matches of their group campaigns, playing reverse fixtures against the teams they faced last time out.

Arsenal and Leicester are at Molde and Braga respectively, before Tottenham host Ludogorets. Celtic play Sparta Prague away and Rangers take on Benfica at Ibrox.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at the opposition clubs.

Coaches

Jorge Jesus returned to Benfica during the summer for a second spell in charge (Adam Davy/PA).

Jorge Jesus returned to Benfica during the summer for a second spell in charge (Adam Davy/PA).

Molde: Erling Moe replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, initially as caretaker manager, when he left for Manchester United in December 2018 as interim boss. Moe, a former Molde player, had been Solskjaer’s assistant and was given the job on a permanent basis when it became clear Solskjaer would not be returning.

Braga: Carlos Carvalhal will be familiar to British fans from his time at Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea. The Portuguese returned to manage Braga for a second time this summer, signing a two-year deal, 14 years after his first spell at the club.

Ludogorets: Former Ludogorets midfielder Stanislav Genchev, 39, was placed in charge on October 24 after the club parted company with Pavel Vrba.

Sparta Prague: Vaclav Kotal, 68, a former player for Sparta, was appointed manager in February, having been in charge of the club’s B team.

Benfica: Jorge Jesus, the club’s most decorated manager of the 21st century, returned for a second spell in charge this summer after a hugely successful stint in Brazil with Flamengo where he won five trophies. His first spell at Benfica, between 2009 and 2015, brought 10 trophies, including three Portuguese championship titles in six seasons, and two Europa League final appearances, before he stunned by leaving for city rivals Sporting Lisbon.

European pedigree

Molde: The Norwegian club reached the Champions League group stage during the 1999-2000 season and the group stage of the Europa League in 2012-13. In 2015-16 Molde topped a group containing Fenerbahce, Ajax and Celtic to reach the round of 32 in the Europa League, losing 3-1 on aggregate to eventual winners Sevilla.

Braga: Regulars in European competition since 2004, Braga won the 2008 Intertoto Cup. They qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 2010-11, and that same season reached the Europa League final – losing 1-0 to Portuguese rivals Porto in Dublin.

Ludogorets: Since winning the Bulgarian league for the first time in their history in 2012, Ludogorets have qualified for Europe every season since. They reached the round of 16 in the Europa League in 2013-14 after topping their group and the round of 32 in 2017-18 and last season.

Sparta Prague: Their best European showing came in the 1972-73 Cup Winners’ Cup when they reached the semi-finals. They have been regulars in Europe since 1980 without reaching such heights, making the quarter-finals of various competitions on a handful of occasions.

Benfica: Historically, the club from the Portuguese capital have a strong tradition in European football, winning back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962 and losing in finals in 1963, 1965, 1968, 1988 and 1990. Benfica have also reached three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals, losing on each occasion in 1983, 2013 and 2014.

Form

Sparta Prague won 4-1 at Celtic earlier this month (Andrew Milligan/PA).

Sparta Prague won 4-1 at Celtic earlier this month (Andrew Milligan/PA).

Molde: Second in the Norwegian top flight but 18 points behind already-crowned champions Bodo Glimt, Molde are unbeaten in their last six league matches, with five of those victories. They beat Dundalk and Rapid Vienna in Group B before a 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal.

Braga: Carvalhal’s men are second in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, four points behind leaders Sporting, having won each of their last five games in the competition. Their Group G campaign has featured wins over AEK Athens and Zorya Luhansk, then a 4-0 thrashing at Leicester.

Ludogorets: Ludogorets lead the Bulgarian top flight by two points with a game in hand after eight wins and one loss in 11 outings. But in Group J, all three of their fixtures have ended in defeat – against Antwerp and LASK, and then 3-1 at home to Tottenham

Sparta Prague: The club are currently four points behind rivals Slavia Prague in second place in the Czech top flight after losing each of their last two games. They opened in Group H with losses to Lille and AC Milan, before pulling off a 4-1 triumph at Celtic earlier this month.

Benfica: Jesus’ side are level on points with Braga in third place in the Portuguese table. They have also lost both of their last two league fixtures. They remain unbeaten in Group D following wins over Lech Poznan and Standard Liege and a 3-3 draw with Rangers.