Europa League: Frankfurt to play in Marseille′s empty stadium | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 19.09.2018
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Europa League: Frankfurt to play in Marseille's empty stadium

Fans of Frankfurt will have to watch their team's return to Europe on TV, as they have been banned from Marseille. RB Leipzig host fellow Red Bulls from Salzburg and Leverkusen are praying for a win in Bulgaria.

The Europa League kicks off this Thursday. Among the 32 teams initially in the competition are Germany's three representatives: Eintracht Frankfurt, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen. 

A 'ghost game' in Marseille

The clash between German Cup winners Frankfurt and Europa League runners-up Olympique Marseille will be a strange spectacle, as UEFA has implemented a closed-door rule to punish the French side for serious violations last season. These included crowd disturbances, acts of damage, the setting off of fireworks and delayed kick-off times. Only the teams and their staff will be in the stadium.

Read more: Europa League Draw: Leipzig drawn with 'sister' club Salzburg, Frankfurt have it tough

Frankfurt are returning to the Europa League after a four year absence, but their fans won't even be allowed to enter the city. The City of Marseille imposed a ban on Frankfurt supporters from 8am to midnight on match day, something that angered the German side, who believe the decision is "unreasonable and legally highly questionable - if not illegal."

The sides have never met before but the hosts, with an abundance of creativity and firepower in the form of Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet, will start as significant favorites. But they will have to get past Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, on loan at Frankfurt from Paris Saint-Germain. The German international faced Marseille four times while in France and was on the winning side on each occasion.

But Frankfurt don't boast quite the attacking prowess of PSG and their offense is still hindered by the absence of Croatian forward Ante Rebic.

Furthermore, their start to the Bundesliga season has been lukewarm, with two loses and one win. Marseille has performed better in their domestic league with three wins and one loss. They come into this tournament with confidence, after last season's inspiring run, but it is worth questioning if they can win at home without their crucial fan support.

Read more: UEFA to introduce third European club competition from 2021-22 season

The battle of the bulls

Leipzig took part in both the Champions and Europa Leagues last season. But they fared better in the latter competition, where they reached the last eight before losing to runner-up Marseille. On Thursday they host Red Bull Salzburg, the first time the energy-drink backed clubs will meet. UEFA cleared them to play against each other, judging that the Red Bull company's investment in both clubs did not break their rule that bars two teams with the same ownership from competing.

Read more: RB Leipzig: Can early start get the Red Bulls off to a flyer?

Salzburg are last season's Austrian league champion and are undefeated this season. They will present a strong challenge to a Leipzig team that is still going through the gears. The German side is currently in the middle of the Bundesliga table, with a win, a loss and a tie so far in three matches. They were shaky in their Europa League qualification, securing their group stage slot with a late penalty against Ukranian side Zorya Luhansk.

Their energy drink sponsor is not the only thing these two teams share. Six Leipzig players had previous stints in Salzburg, while three of the Austrian side's players have experience with German clubs. Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick was also once part of the Salzburg organization.

A prayer for Leverkusen

Leverkusen travel to Bulgaria for their clash against Ludogorets in desperate need of a win to kick start their season.

The Werskelf  are currently dead last in the Bundesliga table, with three straight losses, after being widely tipped to kick on from last term's fifth-placed finish.

Read more: Bayer Leverkusen 'missing desire and intensity' in poor start

The German side would normally be tipped as the stronger team, but their woeful form gives Ludogorets a chance to pull off the upset. A win in Bulgaria would begin to re-assure nervous Leverkusen fans that their start to the season is a bump in the road rather than a full blown crisis.

"The Europa League comes at a good time," said frontman Kevin Volland in an interview with German broadcaster RTL Nitro earlier in the week. "You can deal with the [previous] games quickly because you have new ones quickly arriving."

Three points in Bulgaria, while welcome, wouldn't remove the pressure from their Bundesliga clash withh Mainz on Sunday. But it would, at least, be a start.

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