31.08.2018Europa League

'We accept the role as favourites'

It could be a good omen for a hopefully successful season on the European stage: Bayer 04 were the first of the 48 participating clubs to be pulled out in the draw for the UEFA Europa League and they headed group A. Fernando Carro, chairman of the board, who attended the ceremony at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, was able to be relaxed about the three opponents in the group: The Werkself will play the Bulgarian champions PFC Ludogorets Rasgrad, the Swiss Cup winners FC Zürich and AEK Larnaca, national cup winners in Cyprus.

"We can be satisfied and there will be some interesting matches," said Fernando Carro before going into further detail: "Rasgrad aren't that bad and they've been champions of Bulgaria seven times in succession. Our fans will be happy about the trip to Zürich, and it's definitely not easy to play in Cyprus. The basic factor is: We want to go as far as possible and preferably to the final." 

Head coach Heiko Herrlich said: "Regardless of the draw, we clearly said a long time ago that we wanted to top our group and go through. We are definitely the favourites in our group and, of course, we accept that role." Rudi Völler, managing director sport, has a similar view: "The draw doesn't change anything about what we are aiming for. Our clear target is to go through to the knockout stages."

Lowdown on the three group opponents:

PFC Ludogorets Rasgrad

The fact that the Bulgarian champions can prove to be a very uncomfortable opponent was felt by TSG Hoffenheim last term. The team from Kraichgau played Ludogorets in the Europa League group stage and were unable to win either of the two games. The Bulgarians beat Julian Nagelsmann's team 2-1 on their own ground to go through to the knockout stages where they went out to AC Milan. The club, only founded in 2001, are already familiar with the European stage. In 2014 and 2016 Ludogorets qualified for the group stage of the Champions League where they drew with top clubs Liverpool and Paris St. Germain.

In the current campaign, Ludogorets were in the qualifying rounds for the Champions League as Bulgarian champions but were knocked out by the Hungarian club Videoton Szekesfehervar. After wins against Zrinjski Mostar from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Torpedo Kutaisi from Georgia, The Bulgarians are now in the Europa League group stage for the second time – on both occasions they went through to the knockout rounds. The Ludogorets team, winners of the Bulgarian league every year since 2012, have a lot of Bulgaria internationals as well as several Brazilians in their ranks. That includes coach Paulo Autuori, who took over the helm at the start of the season.

FC Zürich

Bayer 04 have a relatively short journey when Heiko Herrlich and his men play at FC Zürich. FCZ qualified directly for the group stage of the Europa League as the domestic cup winners in Switzerland and Zürich are looking to go through for the first time at the fourth attempt. They did achieve that several times in the preceding competition, the UEFA Cup – most recently in 2008 when the Swiss team met the Werkself in the group stage. There are fond memories at Bayer 04 of the meeting back then as the Leverkusen beat FCZ 5-0 on their own ground in December 2007 with Stefan Kießling and Tranquillo Barnetta getting on the score-sheet.

Bayer 04 will return to the rebuilt Letzigrund Stadium, which is also used for athletics events and concerts. The young team from Zürich does not have any big name players. The most well-known member of the Swiss club in Germany is probably the coach: Ludovic Magnin played for Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart making a total of 149 Bundesliga appearances and he won the German league title with both clubs. The now 39-year-old is also a successor to the current Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre who took FC Zürich to the national league title in 2006 and 2007 for two of their twelve championship titles.

AEK LarnaCa

Bayer 04 to have an attractive journey ahead to the Mediterranean  island of Cyprus. AEK Larnaca Finished fourth in their league last season and had to negotiate three qualifying rounds to take part in the Europa League. Larnaca showed they are a force to be reckoned with the group stage particularly given their performance against the Austrian team  Sturm Graz, who were runners-up in their league last season. The team from Cyprus demolished the Austrians with 2-0 and 5-0 wins and on Thursday they sealed qualification for the group stage with a 3-0 victory in the second leg against the Slovakian club AS Trencin. Larnaca are at this stage for the second time in the club's history – and playing a German team for the second time. In 2011/2012, AEK faced Schalke 04 In their only Europa League campaign and they even held the Royal Blues to a 0-0 draw at the Veltins Arena.

The team has four Cyprus internationals as well as a considerable number of Spanish players. The coach Andoni Iraola is a Basque and it is the first managerial post for the 36-year-old. As a player, Iraola has a lot of experience and he did play in the final of the Europa League. In 2012, he led Athletic Bilbao to the final as captain (0-3 against Atlético Madrid). Bayer 04 play a team from Cyprus for the first time but they have already played a European game in that country: That is, in the Champions League in 2002/03 when the Werkself played their away game against Maccabi Haifa from Israel in Nicosia.

Bayer 04 Group matches:

Matchday 1 (20.09, 21.00 CET): Ludogorets Rasgrad v Bayer 04
Matchday 2 (04.10, 18.55 CET): Bayer 04 v AEK Larnaca
Matchday 3 (25.10, 18.55 CET): FC Zürich v Bayer 04
Matchday 4 (08.11, 21.00 CET): Bayer 04 v FC Zürich
Matchday 5 (29.11, 18.55 CET): Bayer 04 v Ludogorets Rasgrad
Matchday 6 (13.12, 21.00 CET): AEK Larnaca v Bayer 04

Europa League on TV

From this season to 2021, DAZN have the rights to all 205 games.  In addition, the two TV broadcasters RTL and RTL Nitro will show 15 games on free TV. The TV contract of the media group RTL guarantees one exclusive live broadcast per matchday  plus highlights from all the other games. Matches will be played on Thursdays at 18.55 CET and 21.00 CET.


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