Saint Etienne can confirm their qualification into the next round of the Europa League this evening if they manage to defeat visitors Mainz. The French side are currently on eight points in Group C, level on points with Anderlecht, but Mainz are only on five points, meaning a win for Les Verts would knock the German side out whilst assuring their progression.
ASSE are still unbeaten in the Europa League this season, however have only managed to pick up two wins out of four games, both of which coming against perennial whipping boys Qabala.
The last time Saint Etienne and Mainz met was in the first fixture of the competition and they could only manage a 1-1 draw in Germany. If this game ends up with the same result it certainly wouldn’t help either side, but it would give Saint Etienne a slight advantage over their German rivals going into the final match day.
Domestically, both teams have been relatively inconsistent, with Christophe Galtier’s side only picking up one win in their last six Ligue 1 matches and losing huge games in the process, notably against table-toppers Nice and, most importantly, against arch rivals Lyon.
Les Verts currently sit 9th in the table which isn’t what they had expected at the start of the season as they aim to close the gap between the Europa League places and a spot in the Champions League, but at the moment they are failing to even make the Europa League spots.
As for Mainz, their recent form is the epitome of inconsistency in the Bundesliga, picking up three wins, two loses and a draw in their last six fixtures. They’ve managed to defeat the likes of Darmstadt, Ingolstadt and Freiburg in recent weeks, but have fallen against high flyers RB Leipzig and Schalke, teams with a considerable amount of quality in their ranks.
They will be looking to the Europa League as a place to stop the inconsistency and hopefully transform any good result tonight into better prolonged domestic form. The German side currently sit 8th in the Bundesliga, four points off of the final Europa League spot, currently held by Hertha Berlin.
Team News and Tactics:
Last time out against Nice, Saint Etienne lined up in a 3-5-2 formation with Selnaes as the holding midfielder and with Henri Saviet and Jordan Veretout operating as midfielders to link the play between the middle of the park and the strikers.
Nolan Roux and Alexander Soderlund were the two men tasked with scoring the goals for Les Verts, but their top scorer Robert Beric wasn’t able to feature due to a hamstring injury picked up earlier in the month.
I expect that due to the personnel that is unavailable, Christophe Galtier may line up in a similar 3-5-2 formation to give his side more strength in midfield whilst also keeping a significant goal scoring threat through the two strikers up front.
In their last fixture, a 4-2 victory at home against Freiburg, Mainz started in a 4-2-3-1 formation and as the result showed it worked to great effect. With Younes Malli in the number 10 position, it allowed him to dictate play in an attacking sense, and he also grabbed a goal and an assist in the meantime.
I do expect, however, that Mainz won’t be as attacking against Saint Etienne as they really need to avoid defeat, and will maybe pack the midfield in the hope of stifling Les Verts and hitting them on the counter attack.
Henri Saviet (ASSE)
The former Newcastle man could provide the spark that Saint Etienne need to break the deadlock against what I expect to be a rather resolute Mainz team. In the 3-5-2 formation, he is allowed to attack whilst knowing that he has the security of Veretout and Seinaes behind him, which could effectively make him a third striker or a central attacking midfielder.
Younes Malli (Mainz)
The Turkish international was instrumental in his sides most recent victory, and if Mainz line up with a more defensive mindset than they did against Freiburg, Malli could be the man to be the outlet on the counter attack. He is definitely the one to watch from Mainz’s point of view, and if he can be the player he was on the ball at the weekend, Mainz have a good chance on the break.
Both sides will be looking for a win to aid their chances of qualification, but with Les Verts being at home they hold the advantage, meaning it is more than likely that we will see a more defensive Mainz side. I do expect Saint Etienne to win the game, but it will be a tough victory, maybe only by one goal.