The third matchday of the UEFA Europa League is here, and two of the matches on the giant 24-match slate of fixtures stand out as more important than the rest. Tottenham Hotspur and Rubin Kazan are the clear top-two in Group A, and face off at White Hart Lane in one of the late fixtures. As part of the earlier round of games, Udinese and Atletico Madrid, undoubtedly two of the strongest teams in the competition, face off for the top spot in Group I.
Though Udinese are coming off of a 0-0 draw against Atalanta, they're having an excellent season so far in Serie A and they sit in second place, just behind Juventus on goal difference. The losses of Cristian Zapata, Gökhan Inler and Alexis Sanchez have not negatively affected the team to a great extent thus far, as the likes of Danilo, Dusan Basta and Gabriel Torje have stepped in brilliantly.
Atletico Madrid have drawn their last two consecutive La Liga matches and their last three in all competitions, but they're easily within striking distance of Champions League places in Spain. Big money signing Radamel Falcao has been fantastic with six goals in all competitions, while Gabi, purchased from Real Zaragoza, is in good form and has been a pleasant surprise. Despite the play of those two going forward, Atleti is going to need more from new signings Diego and Arda Turan to compete for a top-four place in Spain and win their Europa League group.
Over in London, it's not entirely clear how strong of a side Harry Redknapp will field. Tottenham Hotspur have gone with a second team and very few senior players in their first two games, but Rubin Kazan is top-notch opposition and Spurs will probably feel that it's unnecessary to rest all of their first choice players ahead of a match against Blackburn Rovers. Aaron Lennon and Steven Pienaar are returning from injury and could feature, while second choice senior players Giovani dos Santos, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jake Livermore and Sebastien Bassong should get looks.
Rubin have nothing to play for during the rest of the Russian Premier League season, as they have easily qualified for the Championship group in this year's unique 18-month RPL schedule. This means that there is no reason for them to not play their complete first team, and this will pose problems for Tottenham without a doubt.
Here's the complete list of fixtures
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. AEK Athens - 12:00 pm ET, 5:00 pm BST
1:00 pm ET, 6:00 pm BST matches
SK Sturm Graz vs. Anderlecht
Wisla Krakow vs. Fulham
Odense BK vs. FC Twente
Maccabi Haifa vs. Steaua Bucharest
AEK Larnaca vs. Schalke 04
Udinese vs. Atletico Madrid
Stade Rennes vs. Celtic
NK Maribor vs. Braga
Club Brugge vs. Birmingham
Malmo FF vs. FC Metalist Kharkiv
AZ Alkmaar vs. Austria Vienna
3:00 pm ET, 8:00 pm BST games
Slovan Bratislava vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Athletic Bilbao vs. SV Salzburg
Stoke City vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dynamo Kiev vs. Besiktas
Sporting Lisbon vs. FC Vaslui
FC Zürich vs. Lazio
Rapid Bucuresti vs. Legia Warsaw
Hapoel Tel-Aviv vs. PSV Eindhoven
Standard Liege vs. Vorskla
Hannover 96 vs. FC Copenhagen
Tottenham Hotspur vs. FC Rubin Kazan
PAOK Salonika vs. Shamrock Rovers