Arsenal travel to Azerbaijan with security fears appearing to rule out Henrikh Mkhitaryan while Sevilla play in Russia. AC Milan, without their top striker, and Eintracht Frankfurt have awkward home games to negotiate.
Arsenal go for an eighth straight win when they make their longest-ever journey to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag in the second round of Europa League group stage matches on Thursday.
The 4,600-kilometre trip to Baku, almost matched by Sevilla’s journey to Krasnodar, is further complicated by reports saying Henrikh Mkhitaryan is not travelling with the team amid continuing tensions between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The midfielder, who started Arsenal’s 4-2 Group E win over Vorskla in their tournament opener last month, also skipped a game for former club Borussia Dortmund at Azerbaijan’s Qabala in 2015.
“Safety and security of our players and staff is always a top priority,” an Arsenal spokesman said following the group stage draw.
Chelsea will look to make it 10 games unbeaten against Hungarians Vidi at Stamford Bridge.
Sevilla striker Andre Silva has admitted his start at the club has gone better than he could ever have expected as the Spanish five-times winners head to Russia.
“I never thought I would already have seven goals,” the club’s leading scoring said.
Daniel Carriço is the major absentee from the squad to face Krasnodar.
Sevilla have only won once in eight games in Russia but make the trip off the back of four straight victories in which they have scored 17 goals.
Villarreal also go to Russia where they face Spartak Moscow having failed to win on any of their three games on Russian soil. Javier Calleja’s side have no new injury worries going into the match.
Real Betis coach Quique Setien, meanwhile, has been enthusing over how much his side have improved since last season when they got into Europa League.
Ahead of Thursday’s home game with Luxembourg’s Dudelange, Setien said: “We are infinitely better than last season. We have improved the whole level of the squad. We have new players who know exactly what we want from them.”
AC Milan look to strengthen their lead in Group F when they welcome Olympiacos. The Rossoneri have Gonzalo Higuain injured, which gives youngster Patrick Cutrone a chance to start up front.
Lazio, smarting from a domestic derby loss to Roma but buoyed by the much-hyped Sergej Milinkovic-Savic signing an extended deal, travel to Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Germans produced one of the performances of the round in the first week of group fixtures when they won 2-1 at Marseille, who now visit Apollon in Cyprus.
RB Leipzig are licking their wounds after an opening defeat to “sister” club Salzburg, also backed by drinks firm Red Bull, when they travel to Norway’s Rosenborg. Salzburg host Celtic in the other Group B game.
Bayer Leverkusen welcome Larnaca looking for some consistency after a so far up-and-down season.
“We have the power and the quality to get back on track,” sporting director Rudi Voeller told the Koelner Stadt Anzeiger newspaper.
Other standout games on matchday 2 include French side Rennes having another mammoth trip to Kazakhstan’s Astana, Bordeaux hosting Copenhagen, Anderlecht welcoming Dinamo Zagreb, Zenit St Petersburg facing Slavia Prague and Rangers entertaining Rapid Vienna.
The Scottish side lost to Livingston at the weekend, leaving manager Steven Gerrard searching for answers.
“When you are flying and things are good, individuals and the team get a lot of credit and praise. Sometimes a lot of small things get hidden amongst that but I think after a defeat, away from home, a sore one, then you analyse it a little bit more and analyse individuals a little bit more,” he told Rangers TV.
“Some things smack you in the face and are made that little bit more obvious. There is a saying in football ‘You learn more through defeat’ and I can definitely understand that.”