PSV Eindhoven sit atop the Eredivisie table after two rounds of the 2010/11 season, but continental competition-wise, must contend UEFAs second-class competition after a disappointing campaign last season.
Fans of the Philips-owned giants are accustomed to Champions League football, and resultantly, the prospect of a tie 5,000 miles away on a Thursday evening must be difficult to muster up enthusiasm for.
Therefore, fans of the Lowland outfit, so recently semi-finalists in UEFAs primary tournament, don’t really know how to respond to their side’s participation.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Dutch club’s latest opponents, Sibir Novosibirsk. Rock bottom in Russia during a season 15 rounds older than its Dutch counterpart, the Europa League offers welcome respite.
All but condemned to relegation after a miserable maiden season back in the top flight, things just got worse for the Eagles after Rubin Kazan snapped up their star striker Aleksei Medvedev.
The 33-year-old scored 18 goals in the 2009 promotion-winning campaign, and the paucity of his goal-hanging presence will serve only to further dehydrate Sibir’s goal-well.
In his absence, Sibir’s fate rests on the much broader shoulders of 2010 newbies Igor Shevchenko (a jack of all trades), and archetypal centre forward lump Aleksandr Antipenko.
Change has also occurred in the midfield: pressing presences Aleksandr Shulenin and Gennadi Bliznyuk departed during the mid-season break, but Macedonia’s Veliče Šumulikoski is a more than adequate replacement.
In a team light on youngsters, 31-year-old Tomáš Čížek offers energy and incision from the left. The Czech midfielder prefers cutting inside on his right foot, and takes the team’s set-pieces – generally flicked on at the near-post by Antipenko.
Creativity also stems from the playmaking Ivan Nagibin, and hard-running Maksim Astafyev – two midfielders who operate on a parallel wavelength. Such moments are fleeting, as Sibir are generally moribund imagination-wise.
Tactics hinge on Antinpenko’s flick-ons or lay-offs – unleashing a chaser or carrier respectively. Without the ball, Sibir fare little better, cagily shifting between narrowness and headless-chicken winger-shackling.
You can rely on Aleksandr Makarenko – think Gattuso after gallons of espresso – to mix things up mind. The spectacularly indisciplined defensive midfielder collected two red cards within the first five rounds for stamping.
At the back, Marcus Berg might have a field day playing on the shoulder of Denis Bukhryakov. Too easily lured upfield, a tendency which Toivonen can exploit, the 29-year-old is susceptible to being spun by canny forwards.
Alongside him will be yet another oldie, 34-year-old Tomáš Vychodil. Like Bukhryakov, Vychodil has been with the club for several years, and is your archetypal lump-it-forward centre back.
Should coach Igor Kriushenko want to combat the aerial presence of Danny Koevermans, Belarussian rookie Egor Filipenko’s 6ft 4in frame might be called upon.
But ultimately, the crème de la crème of this Siberian sweet is another Belarussian – an unspectacular left back with an extraordinary party piece, Dmitry Molosh.
Twenty-eight-year-old Molosh boasts a deadly left foot free-kick and shot. Regardless of position, the former BATE Borisov defender always leaves the ‘keeper dumbfounded. Andreas Isaksson, see here, and here.
PSV won’t have it all their own way during tomorrow afternoon’s first leg in Siberia, of course. Only three sides in Russia have scored more home goals than Sibir this season, and they’ve picked up all but one of their nine points at their Spartak Stadium.
Built on the site of Novosibirsk’s cemetery, Fred Rutten and his cast of stars must be careful they don’t end up nestling amongst the scores of Siberian corpses.
Recent victims include the Muscovite duo of Dynamo and Lokomotiv, but the likes of Spartak (five), CSKA and, most recently, Spartak Nalchik, have all struck four or more past Wojciech Kowalewski.
As this Roman Shirokov goal illustrates, Sibir’s defence is prone to losing structure, concentration and mobility. Similarly, Sibir gifted Nalchik two goals on the weekend, needlessly tugging in the box and conceding penalties.
The stereotypical perception of the Russian climate is that it’s permanently cold. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as Ola Toivonen & co. will take to the pitch in 30° heat.
Presently, life at the Philips Stadion is sweet. In Toivonen and Berg, PSV have the strikeforce they’ve waited years for, after injury and Manchester United disrupted a fearsome Ruud van Nistelrooy/Mateja Kežman alliance.
Still, such was Kezman’s potency post-van Nistelrooy, he and Arjen Robben were nicknamed Batman & Robin. In recent seasons, however, Dzsudzsák has had to perform the role of both.
Alas, the Hungarian hasn’t travelled to the far-reaches of the European continent for this game, as a suspension means he stays at home along with fitness-lacking Ibrahim Afellay and transfer-primed Carlos Salcido.
Nevertheless, the way Jeremain Lens has already bonded with the strikers, the PSV attack is fearsome enough even when deprived of its Hungarian superstar.
Predicting the outcome of this game is a really difficult task. PSV struggled at the same stage last season against Bulgarian outfit Cherno More, but Sibir barely overcame Cypriots Apollon Limassol a fortnight ago.
Equally likely to impact on the mental approach and physical application in this tie are the crucial league fixtures both sides face on the weekend. AZ Alkmaar lay in wait for Fred Rutten & co., while it’s a relegation showdown for Kriushenko at home to Amkar Perm.