It may be the lesser of the two European competitions, the slightly uglier younger sister of the impossibly glamorous Champions League, but the UEFA Europa League is still European football and it still brings us some pretty damn fine sporting action. And who else is doing that on a Thursday night, eh…?
We’ve seen the first two matchdays of the Europa League now and the groups are shaping up nicely. The British teams that aren’t Burnley – who were dumped out almost immediately – are faring pretty well. All four that made the group stages (that’s Arsenal, Chelsea, Rangers and Celtic) are in action this Thursday night in Matchday 3 of the competition. So let’s take a little peek at the ties that lay ahead, shall we?
Sporting Lisbon vs. ARSENAL
Unai Emery’s north London sorts are on something of a run at the moment. Consistency was – Invincibles season apart – something that always kind of eluded his predecessor. But the former Sevilla boss has really hit the ground running at Arsenal. The Gunners have won their last ten in a row in all competitions.
Emery loves the Europa League, having won it 32 times in a row with his former employers in Spain. And after two wins from two this year, the man’s showing no sign of any displeasure with the thing this time around.
Arsenal take on a Sporting Lisbon side that are also going strong in the competition, having also picked up six points from six so far. So something has to give when the two sides meet at the Estádio José Alvalade on Thursday evening. The Lisbon outfit are also flawless at home this season, so anyone assuming this is going to be an easy eleventh win for Arsenal should realign their thoughts a wee bit.
Lauren Koscielny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Carl Jenkinson and Petr Cech will all miss out through injury and, as it’s the Europa League, plenty of changes are expected to be made.
Possible Arsenal starting line-up: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Monreal, Elneny, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Smith-Rowe, Welbeck, Lacazette
Odds: Arsenal – 21/20, Sporting – 11/4, the draw – 5/2.
Prediction: Plenty of goals, spoils shared. 2-2.
Red Bull Leipzig vs. CELTIC
Group B – aka ‘The Red Bull Group’ – has already seen plenty of goals and intrigue already. Red Bull Salzburg triumphed over Red Bull Leipzig in the Energy Drink Derby recently, meaning the Germans have three points from a possible six. Celtic also lost to the Austrians, after a home win against Norwegian lot Rosenborg kicked off their campaign.
Ralf Rangnick’s side are currently fifth in the Bundesliga and put six past Nürnberg a few weeks back. They’re fast, well organised and quite likely to turn their visitors over here.
Celtic are missing some key players with James Forrest suspended after a red card in the Hoops’ last European tie. Scott Brown is out with an injury, as are Marvin Compper, Kristoffer Ajer and Nir Bitton.
Possible Celtic starting line-up: Gordon, Simunovic, Boyata, Benkovic, Tierney, Lustig, McGregor, Ntcham, Rogic, Edouard, Griffiths
Odds: Celtic – 7/1, Leipzig – 4/9, the draw – 7/2
Prediction: Celtic won’t roll over, but they will lose. 2-1.
RANGERS vs. Spartak Moscow
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers sit top of Group G after an impressive 2-2 draw away at Villarreal and a comprehensive 3-1 home drubbing of Rapid Vienna in their last Europa League clash. It’s another game at Ibrox here, against an out-of-sorts Spartak Moscow. The Russians are rock bottom of the group currently, despite being early favourites to win it.
Spartak will look to stifle the Scots and hit them on the break, but Rangers are playing with a real swagger at the moment and will be confident of seeing their superior fitness and in-form striker Alfredo Morelos inflict some damage on the visitors.
The Glaswegians will have to make do without the services of Jamie Murphy, Scott Arfield and Graham Dorrans.
Possible starting line-up: McGregor, Flanagan, Worrall, Goldson, Tavernier, Coulibaly, Jack, Kent, Candeias, Ejaria, Morelos
Odds: Rangers – 5/4, Spartak – 23/10, the draw – 3/1
Prediction: This might not be a game of free-flowing total football, but it’s a game Rangers can win. We see a scrappy affair. 1-0.
CHELSEA vs BATE Borisov
Chelsea are 5/1 favourites to win the Europa League. So there’s very little for Maurizio Sarri to fear here against a club side from Belarus. Admittedly, BATE are the dominant side in their league, but that’s a bit like winning an award for tallest dwarf.
The Blues have wowed nobody yet in Europe, but two wins from two and a brace of clean sheets is getting the job done so far. But against a side that found themselves 3-0 down in just over quarter of an hour against PAOK in their last Euro tie, well, Chelsea should romp this in quite convincing style.
Eden Hazard has a back twinge from the weekend and won’t be risked. Plenty of fringe players will come into the starting line-up here, no doubt. Yet most right-minded football fans would still predict a bit of a drubbing.
Possible starting line-up: Kepa, Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen, Palmieri, Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic, Willian, Pedro, Giroud
Odds: Chelsea – 1/7, BATE – 28/1, the draw – 8/1
Prediction: Routine 3-0.
That’s how we see this Thursday’s Europa ties looking anyway. If you want to catch some of the action, you’re welcome down at your local Rileys where we’ll be showing every second of every game involving the British sides.
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