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Europa League: Schalke and Mainz look to take another step towards qualification

Schalke can take a huge step towards the knockout phase with a win in Russia, but they will have to do without a number of players due to injury. Mainz welcome back key players as they host Anderlecht.

Schalke embark on their longest trip of the season as they face FK Krasnodar in the Europa League on Thursday evening. For head coach Markus Weinzierl, Europe has been a welcome distraction from a difficult start to their Bundesliga campaign.

The two teams are level on points at the top of Group I with two wins each and both know that a third consecutive victory would represent a significant step towards qualification for the knockout phase.

It's a depleted Royal Blue squad which has travelled the 3,000 kilometers to southern Russia with Leon Goretzka, Nabil Bentaleb and Sead Kolasinac remaining at home having picked up knocks during Saturday's 1-1 draw with Augsburg.

Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting will undergo physiotherapy in Gelsenkirchen after picking up a knee injury in Bavaria, while Breel Embolo looks set to miss most of the remainder of the season following a serious ankle fracture in the same game.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is therefore likely to start up front alongside Franco Di Santo. Schalke's midfield deficiencies could present opportunities for German Olympic silver medalists Max Meyer and Johannes Geis. Nineteen year old Ghanaian forward Bernard Tekpetey has also been drafted into the first team squad and could make his debut.

The tie will be Schalke's first ever competitive match against Russian opposition and Serbian defender Matija Nastasic is expecting a tough game against "The Bulls” who currently lie sixth in the Russian Premier League.

"We're up against a strong team with a lot of individual quality,” said the former Manchester City defender. "I watched both of their opening groups games and they fully deserve their six points so far.”

Krasnodar began their campaign with a 1-0 win away at Red Bull Salzburg before recording an impressive 5-2 victory over French league leaders Nice, but Nastasic says Schalke are determined to take something from the game.

"We're prepared for an exciting game against very good opposition,” said the 23-year-old. "But we want to get a result to help us qualify for the knock-out round as soon as possible."

Mainz keen to show squad depth

After Sunday's derby success over local rivals Darmstadt, Mainz turn their attention to the visit of Belgian league leaders RSC Anderlecht.

Despite injuries, Martin Schmidt's men have started the season well both in the Bundesliga (seventh in the table) and in the Europa League, where a 1-1 home draw with St Etienne and a hard-fought away win against FK Qäbälä sees them second to Anderlecht on goal difference.

Schmidt confirmed that he has more than 19 fit players for the first time in weeks, including midfielder Fabian Frei and defender Leon Balogun who have both returned to full team training following injuries. Spanish midfielder Jose Rodriquez will also be available following domestic suspension.

"We're benefitting from the depth of our squad,” Schmidt told journalists on Wednesday. "You would barely notice that we have had key players missing.”

Defender Stefan Bell added that the players are balancing domestic and European football well.

"For 80-90 percent of the squad, the triple pressure of league, cup and Europe is new territory,” said the 25-year-old defender. "We have a young team and lots of players who can deal with that pressure.”

Meanwhile, manager Schmidt is also looking forward to locking horns with Swiss compatriot and former Nuremberg head coach Rene Weiler, whose Anderlecht side he described as well organized, quick in transition and strong from set pieces.

"Like St Etienne, Anderlecht is a club which has always been in European competition,” added Schmidt. "It's a definite highlight for the team and the city.”

Selected Europa League ties:

FK Krasnodar vs. Schalke

Salzburg vs. Nice

Inter vs. Southampton

Manchester United vs. Fenerbahce

Mainz vs. Anderlecht

Roma vs. Austria Vienna

Rapid Vienna vs. Sassuolo

Dundalk vs. Zenit

Celta Vigo vs. Ajax

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