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Europa League Preview: Altidore to face Malmo, Celtic meets Atletico, and more

Altidore - Reuters

By CALEB SONNELAND

Jozy Altidore should make his Europa League debut tonight as AZ Alkmaar lines up against Swedish outfit Malmo FF.

Altidore, currently on a hot streak with his new club, has five goals in six appearances and has been an immediate hit for the Dutch side since signing in mid-July.

AZ Alkmaar was drawn into Group H with Austrians FK Austria Wien, FC Metalist Kharkiv of the Ukraine and Malmo.  Despite it being the first game of group play, AZ is tipped to progress from the group with ease.  

AZ is currently enjoying a high-flying start to the Dutch Premier League with four wins, a lone loss and a +11 goal difference.

ATLETICO MADRID FACES CELTIC

 In one of the more heavyweight clashes amidst the Europa League, La Liga's Atletico Madrid will line up against one half of Scotland's Old Firm in Celtic.

A group that many believe is a potential "group of death", the two sides were thrown into Group I with Udinese of Serie A and Rennes of Ligue 1.  

Atletico is currently languishing in the 14th position of La Liga after undergoing a difficult start to its campaign within the league.

In contrast, Celtic has shot up the Scottish Premier League table to second place with 15 points behind its old-time rivals Rangers FC who has 16 points.

ENGLAND WELL REPRESENTED IN GROUP PLAY

The English Premier League will have plenty of representatives in this year's Europa League competition with Tottenham, Stoke, Birmingham City and Fulham all carrying the banner for the EPL.

Tottenham gained entry to the competition after finishing 5th in the EPL, four points ahead of Liverpool and six points behind Arsenal.  It will kick off its campaign against Greeks PAOK Salonika. 

Stoke was awarded its place when it reached the FA Cup Final and Manchester City achieved a UEFA Champions League spot.  Dynamo Kiev will be its first contest in tonight's clash.

After winning the League Cup 2-1 over Arsenal, Birmingham was thrown into the pot for Europa, while Fulham will enjoy its second straight year in the competition after gaining entry via the Fair Play league. The two sides will face Braga and FC Twente, respectively.

AMERICANS IN ACTION

Altidore won't be the only one representing the United States tonight.

Brad Freidel could be between the sticks for Tottenham, and Steve Cherundolo will line up and captain Hannover as it faces Standard Liege.

Jermaine Jones, still contracted to Schalke 04, could face Steaua Bucuresti in Group J, while Clint Dempsey will assuredly be amongst Martin Jol's starting XI against FC Twente.

Sacha Kljestan has been a rock for Anderlecht recently and should find himself in its midfield to face AEK Athens, and Oguchi Onyewu could end up on the field for Sporting of Portugal.

Dominic Cervi should also be included in the squad for Celtic tonight against Atletico Madrid, and Jonathon Spector could well feature tonight in Birmingham's clash with Braga.

Here's the schedule in full:

1:00PM EST

GROUP A

Tottenham vs. PAOK Salonika

Shamrock Rovers vs. Rubin Kazan

GROUP B

FC Copenhagen vs. Vorskla

Hannover vs. Standard Liege

GROUP C

Hapoel Tel-Aviv vs. Rapid Bucuresti

PSV Eindhoven vs. Legia Warsaw

GROUP D

FC Zurich vs. Sporting Lisbon

Lazio vs. FC Vaslui

GROUP E

Besiktas vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Dynamo Kiev vs. Stoke City

GROUP F

PSG vs. SV Salzburg

Slovan Bratislava vs. Atletico Bilbao

3:05PM EST

GROUP G

Austria Vienna vs. FC Metalist Kharkiv

AZ Alkmaar vs. Malmo FF

GROUP H

Birmingham City vs. Braga

Club Brugge vs. NK Maribor

GROUP I

Atletico Madrid vs. Celtic

Udinese vs. Rennes 

GROUP J

Maccabi Haifa vs. AEK Larnaca

Steaua Bucuresti vs. Schalke 04

GROUP K

Fulham vs. FC Enschede

Wisla Krakow vs. Odense BK

GROUP L

Anderlecht vs. AEK Athens

SK Sturm Graz vs. Lokomotiv Moscow

—————–

Think Altidore can get off the mark tonight?  Who takes the points between Atletico Madrid and Celtic? Which of the Premier League four has the best chance of advancing?

Share your thoughts below

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