Russian Football News‘s Martin Lowe is here to tell all Ajax’s fans what to expect from Rostov this Tuesday night.

Rostov’s victory in Brussels two weeks ago over Anderlecht ensured European group stage football for the first time in the club’s history, with a tantalising caveat of an opportunity that it could be in the Champions League rather than the Europa League many predicted if they prove successful in the playoff round. While some hoped for a glamour tie against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, the end result could prove the most fruitful in their hopes of progression after being paired with a below-par Ajax side, who’ve been going through a recent rough patch.

Since that high point at the beginning of August however, nothing has gone straight forward for last season’s RFPL surprise package. Days after their historic victory, influential coach Kurban Berdyev quit his role in the dugout, a decision that had been coming for the past 6 months after disputes with the club’s hierarchy, but nonetheless is a hammer blow to the club’s immediate future. This was followed by a substandard home season opener against Ural, which ended goalless, before defeat this weekend just gone away in St. Petersburg to Zenit, where they let go an early 2-0 lead.

Worries going forward concern further exits, with a number of the “Berdyev contingent” set to jump ship to join their coach at his new club Spartak Moscow. Rostov’s player of the night in Brussels Sardar Azmoun alongside Ecuadorian midfielder Christan Noboa, who made similar moves alongside Berdyev from Rubin to Rostov in the last two years are muted to be treading the same path of their Turkmenistani mentor once again.

To say Rostov are a side in transition would be an understatement, given that we’re only three games into the domestic season makes the situation ever more unstable. Former Rostov and national team striker Dmitri Kirichenko has taken over initially in the dugout while the Selmashi consider a full time appointment. A money spinning passage through to the Champions League group stages will do his case of taking over on a permanent basis the world of good. Or at least we thought so. Monday afternoon, Rostov announced that they had brought back Berdyev as an consultant, meaning he’s likely to be on the sideline when the game kicks off.


Aside to the pressure domestically which comes with such a lofty finish last season, Rostov’s cautious tactics have and will work wonders in Europe, where they will again be considered underdogs. Again they’ll aim to soak up possession before looking to hit the opposition on the counter attack, an approach that was fully utilised this weekend in their second goal against Zenit.


Sardar Azmoun – The star man across their qualifying round with Anderlecht, especially in Brussels where he led the line brilliantly on the counter, is a pivotal figure once again but question marks continue to swirl around his future. While interest from Western Europe has cooled for the moment, after his red card against Ural and his subsequent suspension, Berdyev’s exit has generated murmurs that the Iranian striker will follow him to Moscow.

If Azmoun is unfavoured, or sold on in the meantime, Denis Poloz has proved he can comfortably fill in, as he did this last weekend netting an early brace in the capital.

Cesar Navas – Another player loyal to Berdyev in the past, the Spaniard is a key figure in the centre of Rostov’s three man defence. His European pedigree picked up while playing with Rubin Kazan will prove invaluable once more, given the lack of experience in the squad and now dugout.


Heading to Amsterdam for the first leg, it’ll be a much tougher ask for Rostov than it was two weeks ago given the changing landscape at the club. What they do have in their favour however is an opposition out of form and the knowledge they have the home leg still to come.

It won’t be a surprise to see Rostov surrender a large portion of possession to the Dutch side, but if they can keep the deficit down, and look for an away goal on the counter, they’ll be more than confident returning home for the second leg.

Prediction: Ajax 2-1 Rostov


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In a battle of two historic giants of European football, Ajax play host to Scottish champions Celtic on Thursday in the first game of UEFA Europa League Group A, Will Burns is on hand with a full lowdown on Ronny Deila’s men.

CelticNo stranger to European competition, Glasgow-based club Celtic hold the moniker of being the first British club to have won the European Cup defeating Inter Milan in the final in May 1967. Domestically, The Hoops have clinched a grand total of 46 Scottish League titles and the Scottish F.A. Cup on 36 occasions, while lifting the League Cup a total of 15 times.

In the 1966-67 European Cup winning season, Celtic enjoyed their most successful year when it comes to silverware which will possibly never ever be repeated. Not only claiming European football’s most coveted prize but winning the League title, the Scottish F.A. Cup, the League Cup and the lesser-known Glasgow Cup.

After dispatching the threat of Aberdeen last season on the way to lifting the League title once again, Champions League qualification was a mist for the Scottish giants. However, a disappointing qualification campaign in pre-season in which Scottish clubs wade through three sets of qualifiers before clinching as group stage spot, Celtic fell at the final hurdle. A 5-0 aggregate win over Icelandic champions KR Reykjavík meant Celtic must face their conquers from the 2013/14 qualifiers, Polish side Legia Warsaw. After crashing to a 4-1 defeat away in Warsaw, Ronny Deila’s men hit Legia with a 3-0 defeat to emerge to the playoff on away goals. NK Maribor stood in Celtic’s way of the group stages and unfortunately for The Bhoys after holding the Slovenian champions to a 1-1 draw, they failed to clinch the spot after Maribor captain Tavares notched the only goal of the game.

Deila now has to prepare Celtic for another Europa League run after his first one ended in a valiant, but failed effort (4-3 on aggregate) last season with a last sixteen defeat to their 1966/67 final opponents Inter Milan.


The defending Scottish Premiership champions dropped two points to their closest rivals Aberdeen on Saturday lunchtime. What made things worse was that The Dons were down to ten-men when The Bhoys conceded the fatal second goal in a 2-1 defeat.

The result will have been a bitter blow to the confidence of Ronny Deila and his squad and Ajax and Frank de Boer may chomping at the bit, knowing this may be the perfect time to add more weight on The Hoops’ shoulders.

Celtic set up for Saturday’s game in a 4-2-3-1 formation and held the majority of the possession in the fierce but a close match at Pittodrie, however in front of goal is where they lost the game. Only three shots landed on target with eight sailing into the stands. The back four received a shake-up after Virgil van Dijk moved south to the Premier League in the transfer window so Tyler Blackett partnered Dedryck Boyata (pardon spelling in the below graphic) in the centre of the defence, wth Charlie Mulgrew on the left and the usually reliable Swedish right-back Mikael Lustig slotting into his normal position, although he did not appear comfortable dealing with Aberdeen’s crosses.

Celtic like to use a long ball from the back to send speedy striker Leigh Griffiths on his way racing onto goal, which is how the opener came about. Left-back Charlie Mulgrew launched a ball over the top of the Aberdeen back four onto Griffiths chest and Reds defender Andrew Considine pulled back the striker to give away a penalty. Griffiths converted for his ninth goal of the season.

150914 - Celtic

However, Aberdeen were encouraged by some slack passing by Boyata, and gradually claimed a foothold to fight back and grab an equaliser through a spot-kick of their own after the Belgian defender bundled Graham Shinnie over in the area in what was an unnecessary challenge. Adam Rooney stepped up to level the game up.

Tempers flared, as they do between these sides and Jonny Hayes was dismissed on 72 minutes for rash challenge on Lustig. Defensive frailties were unveiled in the dying seconds when Celtic simply failed to defend a free-kick that allowed Paul Quinn, unmarked, to head home the winner and send Aberdeen top of the Scottish Premiership with a game in hand.


A relatively young manager at only 39 years of age, former Norwegian defender Deila took over the reins at Parkhead in June last year after being very successful in his homeland with Strømsgodset, winning the Tippeligaen before leaving for Glasgow.

Quite the fan favourite for Hoops fans after just over a year in the job, Deila lead Celtic to a League and League Cup double but after failing to qualify for the Champions League football this year, the critics were out in force, pondering whether or not he is up for the job.

KEY PLAYER: Stefan Johansen

Strangely enough, Stefan Johansen arrived from Strømsgodset before Ronny Deila joined Celtic, then-manager Neil Lennon paid a £2 million fee for the midfielder. That price, after just over a year at the club, looks to be a absolute snip as Johansen has excelled and won acclaim for fans and the press for his performances in the League and Europe last term.

The 24-year old, Johansen is a technical, smart central midfielder with tremendous awareness for a pass. The left-footer’s range of passing is impressive and also a real threat from free-kicks. At Celtic he is played with as a creative playmaker in the middle of the park but can also be at home in a deep-lying role when protecting a lead.

Johansen will be have to be closely marked by Frank de Boer’s midfield with youngster Riechedly Bazoer or the experienced Nemanja Gudelj will have the task of keeping the Norwegian under control – both will have their hands full.


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This Thursday night John van der Brom takes AZ Alkmaar over to Serbia to face the stern test of Partizan Belgrade, here’s Milos Dusanovic of Serbian Footy to give us the lowdown on the current SuperLiga champions.

Partizan Belgrade

FK Partizan is one of the most famous and storied football clubs from the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe. They have won 26 league titles, 12 cup titles and were the first Eastern European club to appear in a major European final when they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the 1966 European Champions Cup.

Partizan has had modest success in Europe in the last 15 years, they have qualified for the Champions League group stages twice (2003 and 2010) and the Europa League group stages a total of seven times (2004,2006,2008,2009,2012,2014 and 2015). Partizan reached the round of sixteen of the Europa League in 2004 but since then they have only managed one victory in their last 26 group stage matches which is a truly terrible record. They will hope to end that horrible streak this time around but group L is extremely tough and it will take a lot for them to get a victory.


Partizan usually plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with most of their attacks coming from the wings through Andrija Živković and Aboubakar Oumarou. They also rely on the creativity of midfielders Stefan Babović and Saša Ilić to create goalscoring chances through the middle.

When it comes to Europe, the club installs defensive tactics and looks to hurt their opponents on the counter. Unfortunately this tactic does not work very well for them because the clubs back four is very weak and susceptible to mental and positioning errors.

150914 - Partizan Belgrade

The last match Partizan played was the 149th Belgrade Derby against bitter rivals Red Star this past weekend. Their defence was continuously cut apart in that match en-route to a disappointing 3-1 defeat. More of the same should be expected when they come up against stronger opposition in Group L.

MANAGER PROFILE: Zoran Milinković

Partizan’s manager is Zoran Milinković, he was appointed in late March and led the club to a league title. He is a experienced Serbian manager who is known for having organized sides that play hard.

He is currently on the hot seat and in danger of losing his job after the clubs poor performance in the Belgrade Derby. The usually dominant Partizan currently sits fourth in the league table with three losses from eight matches which is their worst start to a season since 2006/2007. If these disappointing results continue Milinković will be relieved of his duties before the end of the month.

KEY PLAYER: Andrija Živković

Partizan’s main danger man is without a doubt 19-year-old Andrija Živković. The speedy winger is one of the most coveted young players in Europe after leading Serbia to a surprising first place finish at this years’ FIFA Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand.

Živković is a difference maker on the pitch and his combination of speed and skill is very difficult for any side to deal with. He is Partizan’s main offensive weapon and the key to their counter attacking strategy in European matches.

Živković is also known for his set pieces, he can score free kicks and has a very good delivery from corner kicks which adds another potentially dangerous element to Partizan’s attacking play.


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Manchester UnitedPSV Eindhoven are set to venture into the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2009 and their first opponents are one of the most successful clubs in the world. Manchester United have claimed the European Cup silverware three times as well as winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 and arrive in Eindhoven on Tuesday to face Philip Cocu’s men.

Memphis Depay, PSV’s record sale of any player in their history, arrives home to face his former side and will look to make an impact which he has failed to do so far in the Premier League. The 21-year-old winger, however did help the Red Devils qualify for the group stages notching twice in part one of the Playoff round against Club Brugge at Old Trafford.


Manchester United defeated bitter rivals Liverpool 3-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday evening however, in all fairness it was a poor game including an atrocious first half. There was no creative spark for Van Gaal’s side, which looked like they lacked energy and passion. Apart from left-back Luke Shaw getting forward there was very little to admire from either side.

In a 4-2-3-1 formation, the powerful big Belgian Marouane Fellaini was used as makeshift centre-forward in the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney but failed to make an impression. Although, United were the home side, they seemed to be restricted by their tactical straitjacket enforced on them without Rooney, but still against a poor Liverpool side, who have only scored three goals all season, they still ran out 3-1 winners.

The second half showed an improvement from the Old Trafford outfit mainly due to new sense of urgency that half-time substitute Ashley Young (replacing Depay) brought on with him. Former Ajax man Daley Blind scored a good goal just after the break, although Brendan Rodgers’ men did not look switched on to close the Dutchman down.

150914 - Man Utd

One thing Van Gaal has constructed in Manchester is a well-organised defence, even though some second-half chances from the Reds made the back four look uncomfortable under pressure. The inexperienced Joe Gomez gave away a penalty to set-up Ander Herrera to make it 2-0 and after Christian Benetke (Liverpool) grabbed a consolation with a perfect overhead kick, a young Frenchman appeared off the bench to send the 75,347 into raptures.

The £58.8 million price tag was deemed as ‘ridiculous’ by Van Gaal prior to Saturday’s game, but 18-year-old Anthony Martial, a window signing from AS Monaco, killed the game off in style and paid off a tiny bit of monstrous fee. With great composure the teenager, making his debut, had veteran defender Martin Skrtel retreating before placing a shot into the Liverpool net.

PSV could trouble United come Tuesday night with their precision passing and speed off the counter. Look for Maxime Lestienne to stress out Darmain in the right-back position and Luuk de Jong should prove to be a handful, especially if the much smaller Daley Blind is sitting in central defence.

Manchester United will be without Rooney through injury and Van Gaal may look to the young Martial to make his first start and gain further confidence after his dream start.


Great tactician. Disciplinarian. Legend. Can all be words to describe former Ajax manager Louis van Gaal, who has one Champions League medal himself with the Amsterdammers. The 64-year-old stepped into the Red Devils’ hot-seat after David Moyes failed to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, when the famous Scotsman retired in 2013.

The clipboard wielding Dutchman has had little success in his tenure in Manchester so far, but this is indeed a transitional period for the 20-time league title winning side, where Van Gaal is bringing in his own players, own formation and own style of football to the Premier League.

KEY PLAYER: Memphis Depay

If Memphis Depay is going to pick his game up, surely the Philips Stadion is his perfect stage to perform this act. The 21-year-old is physically strong, fast and skilful so has all the credentials to be a top player but looks to having a tough time adjusting in the Premier League. Obviously, PSV head coach Philip Cocu knows the player very well and will look to Colombian right-back Santiago Arias to control Depay and keep him quiet. Arias will find it hard to discover a tougher task in his career, although as he proved in Saturday’s 6-0 win away to SC Cambuur, Depay may have to do some defending of his own.


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