TSC Bačka Topola: The Serbian Underdogs Playing West Ham in Europe
West Ham United is back in the UEFA Europa League for 2023/24, courtesy of winning the Europa Conference League last season. The Hammers join Olympiacos Piraeus FC of Greece, Germany’s SC Freiburg, and little-known Serbian side FK TSC Bačka Topola in Europa’s Group A this season.
Freiburg reached the Europa League’s round of sixteen last season. Olympiacos has done likewise on five occasions since the 1990s. TSC Bačka Topola is an unknown quantity, however. Group A’s rank outsiders have never made it to the competition proper before.
The odds according to many new betting sites in the UK in the UK reflect this, with West Ham (1/5) the Group A favourites followed by Freiburg (4/1). Neither Olympiacos (16/1) nor Bačka Topola (66/1) should progress from the group. Despite this, both the Greek and Serbian teams have the capacity to upset these odds. Any positive results they manage will likely come from their home fixtures, though.
The Serbian group stage debutants did reach the second qualifying stage of the Europa League in 2020/21. Earlier this season a 7-1 aggregate loss to Braga in the Champions League’s third qualifying round qualified the minnows for the 2023/24 Europa League group stage.
Who is FK TSC Bačka Topola? What can West Ham expect from the underdogs? Could the Serbian outfit challenge its more established opponents for a place in the Europa League knockout stages? Let’s find out a little more:
TSC Bačka Topola was formed as Topolyai Sport Club way back in 1913 as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After WWI, the region of Bačka passed over to a district later recognised as Yugoslavia. During WWII, the club still formed part of Hungary’s Second League for some reason.
In 2016/17, after several name changes, Bačka Topola won promotion to the Serbian First League. Then, in 2019/20 the club reached the Serbian SuperLiga for the first time, finishing fourth in its debut season under manager Zoltan Sabo.
Current manager Žarko Lazetić has since improved Bačka Topola’s standing. Last season his side finished second in the SuperLiga behind giants Partizan. Top Bačka Topola players like Veljko Ilic, Nemanja Stojic and Marko Rakonjac mean the capacity to surprise Europa League opposition exists this season.
West Ham had a taste of what the Serbian side is capable of during the September Gameweek One fixture between the two sides at London Stadium. A Petar Stanić goal put the visitors in front before two goals from Mohammed Kudus and another from Tomáš Souček secured the points for The Hammers.
With only 28% possession in the game, Bačka Topola’s four shots on target may give David Moyes’ side something to think about. The two sides meet again at the Gradski Stadion in Bačka on 30 November.
The Serbian team is well-drilled. Lazetić favours a pressing game which could prove difficult for visiting teams. He’s also used many different formations so far this season. Hence, Bačka Topola’s opposition can never be sure how the team will line up.
Bačka Topola could show more resistance on Serbian soil as the creditable 2-2 draw with Olympiacos in Gameweek Two in Bačka indicates. The hosts enjoyed 48% of possession against the Greeks and had two more shots on target than its opposition.
The home side dominated the possession in a 3-3 July draw against Serbian champions Partizan in Bačka. With only a single loss in the Serbian SuperLiga through 10 games, the attack-minded Lazetić unit also has 20 goals in the league to date. It is clear that any team expecting an easy game in the Gradski Stadion could end up facing disappointment.