In the 0-1 draw in the Principality in September, Sturm had less of a chance than the result would suggest. In the five EL group games against consistently top-class opponents, the Styrians only managed to win a point at Real Sociedad (1:1). In many phases the opponents were “a size too big”, admitted Ilzer. “But it was important for us to approach it step by step and gain experience.”
Before the end of Group B, Ilzer said: “Of course we’re blatant outsiders again, but if we take our chances, we can score at home.” Sturm would like to surprise the favorites. A morale injection would be before the final league home game of the year on Sunday (2.30 p.m.) welcome to Austria Klagenfurt Grazer have won only one of their last ten competitive games, in the last 13 games they lost eight.
Ilzer stressed the importance of the game for future draw draws and the UEFA five-year ranking. “A Europa League game can never be meaningless. It’s about prestige, about experience, about the chance to compete at an unbelievably high level.” Head of sport Andreas Schicker put it this way: “We want to say goodbye to the European autumn on a good and dignified note. It’s the last week. Now it’s time to get everything out there.”
Sixth match day
Thursday, 6.45 p.m.:
Sturm Graz – AS Monaco
Graz, Merkur Arena, SR
Al Hakim (SWE)
Storm: Siebenhandl – Gazibegovic, Affengruber, Wüthrich, Dante – Sarkaria, Gorenc-Stankovic, Niangbo, Prass – Yeboah, Jantscher
Monaco: Nübel – Sidibe, Pavlovic, Disasi, Jakobs – Matazo, Jean Lucas – Golovin, Volland, Diop – Boadu
Kuen is out
It is Sturm’s 28th competitive game of the season. Ilzer doesn’t want to give presents. “We won’t have Christmas until we’re all on vacation. Everyone who plays tomorrow absolutely deserves it.” Compared to the 1-1 draw against Admira on Saturday, no major changes in personnel are to be expected. Midfielder Andreas Kuen is missing with an adductor problem, but right-back Yusuf Gazibegovic is available again after being suspended in the league.
The rotation at AS Monaco should be stronger. On Sunday (8.45 p.m.) the league hit awaits the superior leaders Paris Saint-Germain. “We have two big games ahead of us, but we’re in good momentum,” said coach Niko Kovac. His team is unbeaten in seven competitive games and has won three of the last four. “We’re getting better step by step.”
Monaco wants to “perform” in Graz
Monaco is currently in seventh place in Ligue 1. The attacking trio of Kevin Volland, Wissam Ben Yedder and Sofiane Diop was directly involved in 26 of the 27 Monegasque league goals (goal or assist). Not even the PSG trio of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar (25 goals so far) managed to do that.
Despite all the rotation, the group winner wants to take the trip to Styria seriously. “Graz is a team that is not easy to play on,” said French international Aurelien Tchouameni. “Even if we’ve already been promoted, everyone wants to recommend themselves for the match against PSG. So we will try to perform there.”
Game in front of “Ghost Scenery”
Veteran Cesc Fabregas will not be available again until the new year at the earliest, while defender Guillermo Maripan and midfielder Youssouf Fofana are suspended. “The squad is extremely dense, of extreme quality. There is absolutely no drop in performance in the team,” Ilzer emphasized the balance in the squad of guests in Graz-Liebenau.
There, in October 2000, Sturm celebrated a much-noticed 2-0 home win against Monaco on the way to the second round of the Champions League. A full stadium celebrated two goals by Markus Schopp. 21 years later, the encounter takes place in front of a “ghost backdrop” due to the corona virus.