Leicester City were drawn in a group with AEK Athens, Zorya Luhansk and Braga. Not the most known clubs in the World, but again a very interesting draw. It should also be possible for Leicester City to do well in their first ever appearance in this European challenge.Embed from Getty Images
Leicester City will play Ukranian club FC Zorya Luhansk in their first game at home. So who are they?. They ended 3rd in the Ukranian Premier League last season, behind the winners Shakhtar Donetsk and 2nd placed Dynamo Kiev, the two giants of Ukranian football.
Their coach is former Werden Bremen player and manager Viktor Skrypnyk, who has a wealth of experience in the game and also a defender in his past for the Ukranian national team. He is a winner of the Bundesliga as a player with Werder and guided Riga FC in Latvia to the double winning both the league and cup in 2018, before moving to Zorya and ending third last season, which is a bit normal as the club in their previous seasons have been in and around that position.
Zorya are also former representatives of Ukraine in the Europa League, playing in the tournament and reaching the group stages twice before, and back in 2016/17 they played Manchester United, losing both games ending last in their group.Embed from Getty Images
The start of the season has not been as positive as they probably would have liked, in 9th place at the moment with 4 points after 4 games played. Their team do have a few interesting players, with Olaksandr Hladkyy a new addition from Turkish club Adana Demirspor, age 33 and previously an international with 11 caps for Ukraine.
A reason for their soft start of the league season might have to do with their transition of a squad, and not yet played their team fully together. Zyroa sold higly rated midfielder Bohdan Mykhaylichenko to Anderlecht and central defender Yevgen Cheberko to Lask Linz.
Leicester City will play Zyroa at home on the 22nd of October, and their away fixtures will be played 3rd of December.Embed from Getty Images
AEK Athens will be the first away fixture in the Europa League for The Foxes as they fly out to the capitol of Greece on the 29th of October. This is a club that we all know had a very special clash with Nottingham Forest all those years ago in the European Cup, losing 7-2 on aggregate to the local rival, as they marched on to win the title that season, with Peter Shilton and Martin O’Neill among the heroes of their campaign.
AEK is one of the aristocrats of Greek football with loads of domestic league and cup titles and winning The Super League of Greece as recent as in 2017/18, ending 3rd last season. The manager at present is Italain Massimo Carrera. The 56 year old former Juventus and Atalanta defender was only selected once for the national team but his career as a player is impressive, making 686 appearances for a number of different clubs from the age of 18 to 44. Since retirement in 2008, he has been working for Juventus in different roles, being the assistant of the Italian national team and manager of Russian club Spartak Moscow, before taking the job at AEK in 2019.
Among their players midfielder and captain Petros Mantalos must be mentioned. A 29 year old Greece international with 23 caps to his name and 206 league appearances for AEK since joining from Skoda Xhanti. He is a former team mate of Jordan Stewart who represented the Greek club from 2010 to 2011.
Another interesting player is the new recruit, Poland international Damian Szymanski recently joined from Russian club Akhmat Grozny and also to watch another new addition, Trinidad & Tobago winger Levi Garzia joining from Beitar Jerusalem in front of this season.
AEK might be a bit concerned about the goalkeeper situation, with their first choice over the last number of seasons Vaslilis Barkas joining Celtic this summer. They have also seen defender Marios Ikonomou leaving for FC Copenhagen, winger Daniele Verde joining Italian Serie A club Spezia and also waving goodbye to forward Giorgos Giakoumakis joining Dutch club VVV-Venlo.
Leicester City will play AEK at home on the 10th of December being the last and final game of the group stages, with the away match taking place as mentioned above on the 22nd of October.
The last and final opponent of Leicester City is S.C. Braga of Portugal, surprisingly being the top draw of the group, as they ended 3rd in the Portuguese league last season. A club with a long and proud tradition, but surely in the shadows of FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica, who are the major clubs of this country.
They are previously winners of the domestic cup and once runners-up in the league, with their proudest moment probably reached when they played FC Porto in the final of the Europa League back in 2009-10 in an all Portuguese final.Embed from Getty Images
Former fox Tony Sealy did enter the Portuguese life of football representing S.C. Braga in four games back in 1988, and during the years frequently played in Europe on several occasions. Their colours are said to be “Arsenal Style”, as Leicester City hopefully will be able to use their 1st kit in both games, taking place on 5th of November (home) and 26th of November (away).
Their team of today is an interesting set-up, but so far, of course very early in the season, only played two games, both lost to FC Porto and Santa Clara, they are still without points and 17th in the table. Francisco Trincao, previously linked with Leicester City, had a brilliant season with Braga last term but has returned to Barcelona after agreeing a deal with them in January and settling his move permanently in the summer. This has probably weakened the Braga team, as it’s too early to say how much this will make of an impact when the season moves on.Embed from Getty Images
They have also let forward Ahmed Hassan leave to join Greek club Olympiakos. They have added a few new players with the most interesting one, being 20 year old Barca II forward Abel Ruiz, who will be one to eventually hope can close the gap left after those two profiled players. They also have to depend heavily on their other striking force, Paulinho, still at the club and top scorer last season with 17 goals.
It might also be a difficult season for new manager Carlos Carvahal who has taken over after the highly successful Ruben Amorim who left to win the manager job at Sporting Lisbon, with the former Swansea City and Sheffield Wednesday boss Carvahal coming in from Rio Ave.
It’s great to see Leicester City back in Europe and of course with respect to the opponents, it should be possible to have high hopes for a life in this tournament beyond the group stages.