Levski Sofia vs. Vaduz
UEFA Europa League
July 17th, 2018
It may only be mid-July but already we are at a crunch stage in the UEFA Europa League as the First Round qualifiers come to a close over a three-day period this week. FC Vaduz get the action started with their trip to Sofia to reconvene with Bulgarian side Levski Sofia after their narrow victory last week in the principality. In a tie that not many gave Vaduz a chance with against a side with bigger names and a bigger European pedigree, the first leg result is a massive boost for the Liechtenstein Cup winners and gives them every chance of progression if they can repel Levski for the second week in a row in the Bulgarian capital.
It wasn’t pretty by any means last week but Vaduz got the job done. Any nerves were quickly expelled at the Rheinpark when Mohamed Coulibaly decided to take matters into his own hands… or feet, by curling a stunning effort into the top corner of the net. Favourites they weren’t but Vaduz were quick to shake off any notion that this would be easy for Levski. Vaduz may have taken a stronger lead to Sofia if not for Gajic’s wonderful free-kick being tipped over by Mitrev. In truth, this was the best spell of the match for Vaduz in the early going.
Levski, predictably, came back into the match and it was “nearly” moments for them from there on out. It became a recurring theme that Levski would find a killer ball into the box and have no one there to knock it in or for one of their players to lose their footing or something of that ilk. There were many chances that they should’ve gobbled up but simply didn’t. Perhaps it is a lack of football at this stage of the season but one would suspect that if given those sorts of opportunities on Tuesday evening, they won’t be so quick to pass them up.
So, what can Vaduz do to negotiate what is now a very tricky position? Well, the lead is good, any lead is good. Sure, Vaduz would’ve liked to have held something a little stronger but they managed to avoid any away goals and have the luxury of going to Sofia knowing that if they can nick an away goal, it makes the situation very dire for Levski.
There should also be plenty of optimism for the principality club – they have only lost three of their last nine away games in Europe and only one, a 3-0 defeat to Midtjylland, would be enough to knock them out if Levski achieved the same on Tuesday. It is also worth noting that Vaduz have went to difficult places against similar sides and found away goals. A 3-2 defeat to Ruch Chorzow in Poland in 2014 wasn’t enough to advance but on this occasion, it would send Vaduz through.
Vaduz also managed a remarkable 3-1 victory away vs. Vojvodina in 2011, so they do have previous.
What approach is best then? It seems certain that Levski will enjoy more of the ball and after all, they are the team that need the goal. Vaduz aren’t exactly sound defensively and they conceded a lot of chances at home last week, even if Levski only managed four of their fourteen on target. It suggests that sitting back will be a very dangerous game, but one good break and, of course, the finish at the end, would give Vaduz that precious away goal.
Levski’s European woes? Perhaps it isn’t surprising to see Levski in this position. They have won only four of their last eighteen European fixtures and only two of their last twelve. Their last victory came in a 3-1 win over Sutjeska last season. At home though, their record is much stronger, with only one defeat (1-2 vs. Hajduk Split) in their last twelve Europa League matches.
They have conceded in eight of their last twelve though, so that is a positive for Vaduz and their results at home vs. sides like Irtysh, Spartak Trnava and Sarajevo would still be enough to see Vaduz through.
It is a difficult one to call in Sofia on Tuesday evening. The encouraging signs are definitely there for Vaduz if history is anything to go by. They can score on the road, Levski are far from foolproof at the back at the Vivacom Arena and although they don’t lose often there, they don’t often get the sort of result at home that would see them through this particular tie.
It is there for Vaduz but there is the feeling if they concede as many chances as they did last week, they will be picked off by a side with more than one proven goalscorer in it’s ranks.
Victory here would be a massive boost for Vaduz with the favourites tag, as mentioned, given to Levski. It would be a major hurdle passed and a chance and will give Vaduz plenty of belief for the rounds to come.
Good luck, Vaduz!