Europa League, eight finals, first leg
Crvena zvezda will host CSKA Moscow. Until recently there was small doubt whether this game will be played behind closed doors due to UEFA suspension but at the end Crvena zvezda appeal was accepted and UEFA changed initial decision and only financial penalty remained.
So around 50 thousands people are expected to attend this match. During the history this wind in the back from the stands usually was big help to home team, we will see how it will look now. I'm not sure it would be enough cause Zvezda is too long out from European main scene. In fact this season was first for them after more than a decade to competed in the group stage.
And they did well in that group, finished second behind Arsenal. Still, it wasn't exactly too tough group. Behind Arsenal who played entire competition with reserve squad, the other two opponents were BATE Borisov and this season desperate German FC Koln.
In any case, Crvena zvezda played tough, all games in Belgrade have been very tied, low scoring. Arsenal has won here 0:1, Koln has suffered 1:0 loss while game against BATE ended in 1:1 draw. Zvezda during this campaign was not so efficient team but also their defense was not allowing too many goals. If you think this low scoring trend was only on their home games, you are wrong. On the road we saw even more of this. Just one goal in three road games, it was goal in 1:0 win in Germany while visits to Belarus and London ended with scoreless draws.
IMO CSKA will be the toughest opponent for Serbian team so far. Of course, CSKA is not a team on higher level than Arsenal but surely are better from the squad Arsene Wenger has used in this competition. How much CSKA is serious opponent, we can see by the fact they competed in the Champions League group stage. And not just participating there but won three out if six games including two on the road, in Lisbon against Benfica, 1:2, as well in Basel with same score, 1:2. The only road defeat was from Man. United, 2:1.
No matter of very strong opponent, I believe this game for Zvezda won't be much different than those from group stage. I mean, IMO this will be another low scoring match.
For both this game is coming in moment when national championships in Serbia and Russia are yet to start. So, we are now in the winter break and can't rely much on form of the teams cause we are yet to see them in the official games. But preparation period gave us some clue.
Zvezda in preparation period played mainly some weaker opponents and IMO didn't show much. The only really tough opponent and on CSKA level was Zenit St. Petersburg. That game ended with 0:1 loss. Something similar when totals are in question, I expect also against CSKA. So, 1:0 win for one of the sides, or some draw, 1:1.
Crvena zvezda rarely scored goals during the group stage while now will have additional problem in attack since the first striker option Richmond Boakye got injured and missed big part of the preparation period. They says how Boakye has recovered but don't believe that. IMO no way he will play, he might be on the bench.
Ben, the new player who arrived from Olympiakos, showed to be good signing but we are yet to see him in official game. We shouldn't forget that Zvezda remained without very important player in the midfield, it's Kanga who moved to Sparta Prague.
From the Zvezda's coach Milojevic we could hear how they will play this game in very attacking style but IMO this is only story for the press, some kind of try to fool the opponent. No way the host will risk here to much. For them is much more important not to concede goal. IMO and with all said above about Kanga leaving and Boakye being injured, Crvena zvezda in this game will be even less dangerous in attack than it was during the group stage.
CSKA on the other side during this break brought back on loan from Leicester their former player Musa. This guy was one of main attacking weapons for Russian team during several seasons spent in Moscow. But in last two seasons since he joined Leicester, Musa failed to fit and didn't manage well in English football. Musa has played only 18 games (2 goals) for Leicester.
After this bad period, I doubt he will be good in CSKA jersey as he was during his first period with this club.
CSKA has their own issues with injuries. Aleksei Berezutski, Georgi Shchennikov are some of the players that will miss this first game.
The bottom line, under 2.5 for me is highly expected outcome of this first leg.