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Ahh, the Europa League. This is a 2 legged affair which further muddies the water. It is effectively halftime after tonight's matches. I find this competition very hard to research because a) some teams don't want to be here (Inter Milan quite obviously), b) some managers field weakened sides (see Premiership teams), c) look at the first match - a Russian team v a Turkish team - how on earth do we gauge these sides? I have some basic research and my shortlist requires a leap of faith that the teams are motivated for this competition.
As things stand, Fenerbahce look motivated; Rostov were strong in the Champions League and look motivated; APOEL's woeful away record should suggest Ath Bilbao are strong tonight.

16:00 - FC Krasnodar v Fenerbahce - 2.6 Krasnador

  • Fenerbahce are another side who did not last long in the Champions League (August 2016) and went into the Europa League.
  • Krasnador are tough to read on their Europa League form given they smash Nice 5-2 at home then lose at Nice, they beat and then draw with Salzburg but lost twice v Schalke.
  • Fenerbahce have been competitive enough in the Europa League to suggest either a) the teams they play are not high quality or b) they are up for this competition.
  • Fenerbahce beat Zorya, Man Utd and Feyenoord. They did lose again to Man Utd.
  • Note Fenerbahce away in this competition tend to consistently score. Krasnador have conceded in their last 3 at home, albeit 2-1-1 goals (2 when they won 5-2 so give that a context).

Conclusions

  • Today is about leaps of faith. I have to take a leap of faith that Fenerbahce's form to date in this competition is indicative of a motivation to succeed in a competition other sides (like Inter) treat with disdain.
  • On that basis I would consider laying Krasnador if Krasnador scored first.

18:00 - Olympiakos v Osmanlispor - 1.66 Oly

  • Olympiakos usually have a longer stint in the Champions League so must be disappointed with such as early arrival in the EL.

Olympiakos EL stats

  • Only 1 win in 5 matches. An impression that the EL is not a priority.
  • No win in 3 matches.
  • Only 1 win in 8 matches at home was v Astana.
  • Conceded in their last 8 home matches.

Osmanlispor EL stats

  • First time in the EL and only 2 defeats v Zurich and Steaua Bucharest.
  • Last 3 away scorelines were 2-1, 2 defeats and a win.

Conclusions

  • The epitomy of an EL match. I have never heard of Osmanlispor, nor do I know their strengths or weaknesses, particularly in light of the fact that Olympiakos seem non-plussed about this competition.
  • The value lies in laying Olympiakos if they lead 1-0. That is not to say I have any confidence at all in Osmanlispor equalising.

18:00 - AZ Alkmaar v Lyon - 1.95 Lyon

  • 2 of the more recognisable European sides in this Europa League. AZ are from Holland and Lyon are doing ok in the French Ligue 1.
  • AZ's form to date is un-readable. How can we evaluate the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Dundalk and Zenit against Lyon?
  • 2 recent wins v Dundalk and Zenit, the latter more eye-catching for me given Zenit have been sometime Champions League contenders.
  • There is vulnerability at home for AZ with 2 draws, a loss and a 3-2 win v Zenit. They have scored and conceded in their last 3 matches at home.
  • Lyon were in the Champions League until 7th December 2016 where they showed a strong defensive bent in 0-1 defeats to Sevilla and Juventus, drawing Juve 1-1 again, 0-1 win v Dinamo Zagreb and 0-0 v Sevilla. I suppose a group comprising Sevilla (in their current mood) and Juventus was always going to be a tough group to progress from.
  • Lyon were last in the Europa League in 2014 where they were dumped out by Astra.
  • 1-1-0 conceded away by Lyon v Sevilla, Juve and Dinamo Zagreb in the champions League.

Conclusions

  • The eternal conundrum. Can an ex-Champions League team really be arsed with the Europa League. On form, for me, a fully wound-up Lyon side should have too much for an AZ side whose only eye-catching bit of recent form was a win v Zenit. Lyon showed in the Champions League a strong defensive bent. Will that show today? If so, they should not concede more than 1 goal. Let that be an assumed angle today?

18:00 - Astra Giurgiu v Genk - 2.42 Genk

  • Romania plays Belgium in another unappetising Europa League first legger.
  • Astra could not get past Copenhagen in the Champions League way back in August 2016.
  • Astra performed creditably against West Ham (a weakened side), lost heavily to Roma and drew 0-0 in the next fixture against them.
  • 3 draws and a 2-3 loss at home for Astra though could see them vulnerable today.
  • In 2016 Genk have only lost twice in the Europa League, to Rapid Vienna 2-3 and Ath Bilbao 5-3.
  • They beat Bilbao at home and away from home seem to involve themselves in goal-laden matches. 1-2 v Cork, 2-2 v Lok Zagerb, 3-2 v Rapid Vienna, 5-3 v Ath Bilbao and 0-2 win v Sassuolo.

Conclusions

  • Do we expect goals today in another Genk away match? If they continue this pattern, we could see 2 goals from Genk which would suggest opposing any Astra lead in this match.

18:00 - Gent v Tottenham - 1.82 Tottenham

  • The Tottenham team sent out in the Europa League is generally a weaker side than we see in the Premiership. It is this question mark that makes interpreting this match difficult. Ordinarily I would be with a Premiership side against a Belgian side.
  • Gent have only 1 win in their last 4 EL matches, a 1-0 v Konyaspor. They conceded 10 goals in 2 matches v Shakhtar Donetsk in October 2016.
  • Tottenham were in the Champions League as recently as December 2016 and the last time they were in the EL they lost to Dortmund so that was a bit of a tough set of matches for them.
  • I haven't got a clue here. Sorry. Team news is key.

18:00 - Rostov v Sparta Prague - 1.95 Rostov

  • Rostov come from the Champions League to the Europa League. They were last in the Europa League in 2014.
  • Rostov were very competitive in the Champions League, beating Bayern Munich at home, losing only 0-1 and 2-1 to Atl Madrid and drawing against PSV twice.
  • If Rostov maintain the kind of form and motivation they showed in the Champions League, surely they will be a worthy favourite here tonight.
  • Rostov in the Champions League scored 2-4-2-0-3 goals at home.
  • Sparta Prague had a really poor run in the Champions League and are now in the Europa League.
  • Sparta beat Inter Milan and Southampton in the Europa League but let's be honest. This Inter Milan were absolutely not interested in this competition whatsoever and Southampton fielded a weakened side.

Conclusions

  • I will take a punt on Rostov tonight. I need to have faith that they will bring their Champions League form into the Europa League and if doing so could score 2+ goals today and be very competitive.
  • This is one of those matches which I will actually shortlist. I would lay Sparta Prague if Sparta scored first.

18:00 - Mgladbach v Fiorentina - 2.12 Mgladbach

  • Mgladbach are another side who are coming from a poor Champions League campaign and into the Europa League.
  • At home, Mgladbach were competitive. They lost 1-2 v Barcelona, and drew 1-1 with Celtic and Manchester City. That's decent form.
  • Mgladbach scored and conceded in their 8 Champions League matches.
  • 4 wins and a loss to PAOK for Fiorentina in their last 5 matches in the Europa League saw both teams score in 4 of those matches.
  • Since 2007 away from home in the Europa League, only Tottenham and Sevilla have beaten Fiorentina.

Conclusions

  • What proof do we have that Mgladbach will be as competitive in this lesser competition than they were in the Champions League? On the assumption that they will, they were certainly competitive at home v the big teams, although admittedly they were soundly thrashed by both Man City and Barcelona way.
  • Fiorentina have a traditionally strong away record in the Europa League.
  • Both teams may score tonight.

18:00 - Ludogorets v FC Copenhagen - 2.7 Ludogorets

  • These are both Champions League sides relegated to the Europa League. I will defer to the market here and step back from this match, the Celta Vigo match and the Anderlecht match. Favourites at odds of 2.7 are only there under sufferance in a match where the market cannot pick a favoured side.

18:00 - Celta Vigo v Shakhtar Donetsk - 2.74 home and away

  • See above.

20:05 - Anderlecht v Zenit - 2.7 Anderlecht

  • See above.

20:05 - PAOK v Schalke - 2.24 Schalke

  • Greece v Germany in this Europa League match. Instinctually I would be drawn to Schalke.
  • PAOK have never won a Champions League match so it was inevitable that they would find themselves here in the Europa League.
  • They began the Europa League well, beating Fiorentina 2-3 away from home and beating Slovan Liberec 2-0 at home.
  • 0-0-2-0-0-2 scored in their last 6 home matches.
  • Only 2 defeats in 15 Europa League matches for Schalke came v Shakhtar Donetsk and Salzburg.
  • That Salzburg win ended a run of 5 consecutive Schalke wins.

Conclusions

  • Too tough to call. PAOK won the 2 teams they played in the Europa League recently. Schalke only lost to Salzburg after 5 wins.

20:05 - Villareal v Roma - 2.72 Villareal

  • 2 eye-catching teams who are better used to the Champions League than the Europa League.
  • Villareal don't have a good record in the Europa league which may betray their priorities.
  • Draw, Draw, Loss, Draw, win in their last 5 matches saw both teams scoring.
  • Historically though, Villareal have an excellent home record. 21 wins, 2 losses and a draw in their last 25 home matches.
  • 4 2-1 scorelines in their last 5 matches.
  • Only 4 wins in 11 matches for Roma. 3 draws in their last 4 away matches.

Conclusions

  • I am not sure that researching these matches is actually going to do any good. Here we have 2 teams who might field a second string.We have a Villareal side whose form suggests they are not 100% committed to this competition. We have a Roma side who are far better than the Europa League form.

20:05 - Athletic Bilbao v APOEL - 1.34 Ath Bilbao

Ath Bilbao EL stats

  • Only 5 wins in 12 matches since 2016.
  • 2 wins in their last 3 matches saw them scoring 5-3 goals.
  • 8 wins, 2 draws and a loss in their last 11 home matches.

APOEL EL stats

  • No draw in 13 matches.
  • 4 wins and 2 losses in their last 6 matches.
  • 7 defeats in 8 aways. Did beat Olympiakos 0-1.

Conclusions

  • APOEL have a woeful away record and the market certainly thinks free scoring Bilbao will spank them today. Little else to go on bar this expectation of a Bilbao win.

20:05 - Legia Warsaw v Ajax - 2.34 Ajax

  • Poor Legia didn't have a chance in the Champions League, going up against the likes of Real Madrid, Dortmund and Sporting Lisbon (they did manage to beat the latter once).
  • The last time Legia were in the Europa League, they had a poor record with just the 1 win v FC Midtjylland.
  • World famous Ajax could not get past PAOK and Rostov in the Champions League scoring and conceding in the 4 matches.
  • There is a hint that this opposition today are a level lower.
  • In the Europa League, Ajax have a solid record and there is a hint here that they are up for the competition.
  • Away from home though, Ajax are scoring and conceding and had 2 consecutive score draws v Celta Vigo and Standard Liege.

Conclusions

  • I will enter this match on the assumption that Ajax's unbeaten recent form in the Europa league is not all down to the quality of the opponents but is also down to an away team who want a Europa League run.
  • Although Legia had an impossible task in the Champions League, there is little in their Europa League form which suggests they will go far. My trading angle? Expect Ajax not to lose. I would not rule out a score draw.

20:05 - Hapoel Beer Sheva v Besiktas - 2.72 Hapoel

  • Hapoel Beer Sheva have struggled generally in the Europa League, admittedly they beat Inter and drew with Southampton but as I said previously this was a dis-interested Inter side and a second string Southampton side.
  • Besiktas are coming from the Champions League into the Europa League where they only won one match, away at Napoli and were roundly tonked 6-0 by Dynamo Kiev in the last match.
  • Another unknown. I was hoping to find some angles from Besiktas' Champions League form but there is none.

20:05 - Man Utd v St Etienne - 1.35 Man Utd

Man Utd EL stats

  • 4 wins and a loss v Fenerbahce in their last 5 matches.
  • 3 consecutive home wins, the last 2 saw them scoring 4 goals v Fenerbahce and Feyenoord.

St Etienne EL stats

  • Only 1 loss in 16 matches was away v Basel.
  • 3 wins in their last 4 matches v Qabala (twice) and Anderlecht (2-3).
  • 4 wins and a draw in their last 5 away matches.
  • Scored and conceded in 6 of their last 7 away matches.

Conclusions

  • Man Utd have continued their scoring 2+ goal habit in their last 2 home EL matches. I hope Mourinho plays a first team as I would be confident of a United win in that case.
  • St Etienne have been scoring and conceding away of late but the teams they have met away are not really in the same bracket as Man Utd.
  • In French Ligue 1, St Etienne have been renowned 2nd half goal scorers. I may lay United if their lead is 1-0 mid way through the second half.