Matchday two of the Europa League throws up a couple of tricky away matches for two of the four British sides in this year’s competition. Arsenal make the near 2,500-mile trip to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag seeking an eighth successive win in all competitions. However, with a much-changed team expected to take to the field, the home side offer some value to end the Londoners’ winning run.
Struggling Celtic don’t have as far to go but face a much stiffer challenge when they take on Austrian champions Salzburg, who have grown accustomed to taking the scalps of big-name opposition in the Europa League.
Qarabag v Arsenal – draw @ 3/1
The Gunners look to have found their feet under new coach Unai Emery with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Watford being their seventh on the spin. However, anyone who watched the game at the weekend or any of their previous victories under the Spaniard will know the Londoners are far from the finished article.
A long trip all the way across Europe provides the next acid test for Emery’s team with Qarabag having proven to be a tough nut to crack on home soil in Europe in recent years. They held Atletico Madrid to a goalless draw last term in the Champions League group stages and have won their last four in all competitions in Baku.
Arsenal are likely to make the trip without several first-team regulars, Emery having made numerous alterations for the win over Vorskla on matchday one. Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have probably been involved given his lack of domestic action recently but political tensions between Azerbaijan and his home nation Armenia means he’s unlikely to make the trip.
Arsenal didn’t have a bad record away from home in Europe last season, winning in the likes of Milan and Belgrade but they were caught out by Cologne so are partial to the occasional slip-up. The draw or Qarabag double chance at 8/5 appears to offer some value in this one but we like the honours to be shared in a hard-fought encounter.
Salzburg win and over 2.5 goals @ 7/5
Celtic make the trip to Austria having got back to winning ways last week, defeating Aberdeen 1-0 at Parkhead. Neither that win, or the League Cup success at St Johnstone were convincing though and the Bhoys look like they’ll be in for a tough night at the Red Bull Arena.
Salzburg won the ‘Red Bull derby’ in the first round of group matches, beating RB Leipzig 3-2 in Germany and they are a team to be feared in this year’s Europa League having made the semi-finals last season.
The Austrian champions come into this one having won their last six in all competitions, while they are yet to lose this season. Their last eight matches have also featured over 2.5 goals, while seven of the last nine Europa League matches have seen that mark hit.
Celtic’s away form in Europe offers little hope, the Hoops failing to win a game on the road in UEFA’s second tier competition since 2011. That stat, coupled with Salzburg’s excellent recent form, points towards another tricky night for Brendan Rodgers’ men on the continent.
Rangers to win @ 1/1
It won’t come as a comfort to Celtic but it shouldn’t be all bad news for Scottish teams taking on Austrian outfits on Thursday. Rangers have shown a liking the Europa League so far this season and got an excellent draw at Villarreal a fortnight ago.
Steven Gerrard’s men might have tasted defeat at Livingston in the Premiership at the weekend but at Ibrox they remain unbeaten under the Liverpool legend, winning their last six matches. European football has not often been on the menu for Gers’ supporters in recent times so expect it to be a cracking atmosphere come kick-off time.
Their opponents, Rapid Vienna, arrive in Glasgow in no kind of form, winning just two of the last seven in all competitions. Their away record in Europe makes for grim reading, failing to win any of the last five, while they lost both matches on their travels in qualifying for the group stages.
Rangers have only conceded three times at home this season but Rapid do at least have a decent record of scoring on their travels, finding the back of the net in every away game so far this term. Therefore, a Gers win and both teams to score at 51/20 makes sense for those seeking a bigger price.
Astana to beat Rennes @ 5/4
Rennes are the latest team forced to trek half way around the world to take on Astana and are unlikely to enjoy the experience. The Kazak city, which is closer to China than Europe, is not an easy place to get to and the local team are hardly welcoming, going 13 home games unbeaten in the Champions League before losing to Dinamo Zagreb earlier this season.
Astana were beaten twice on home soil in the Europa League last season, going down to Villarreal and Sporting, superior opposition than Rennes. The Blue and Yellows’ recent form is good having gone seven unbeaten, while they got a creditable draw against Dynamo Kiev on matchday one.
Contrast that run of results to how Rennes have performed of late and it is easy to see why we like the price of the Kazaks. The French visitors have won just one of the last five and that was against little known Czech side Jablonec on the opening night of the Europa League group stages.
Sabri Lamouchi’s men failed to get the better of 10-man Toulouse at the weekend and are exepected to rest their main attacking threat, Hatem Ben Arfa, when they head to Astana.
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