The Champions League takes the headlines but the Europa League often provides more excitement and this season’s edition is shaping up nicely.
With two rounds to go, a number of the Groups are far from settled, meaning there is the potential for plenty of drama to be produced by the 24 fixtures on Thursday.
Salzburg to win @ 53/20
Arguably the pick of the 17:55 games comes from Austria as Salzburg welcome Leipzig in Group B. These two sister clubs follow a similar philosophy, but while the Austrian champions have generally been viewed as the younger sibling in the past, they seem on top at the moment and won 3-2 in eastern Germany back in September.
Die Roten Bullen have a perfect record so far in the Europa League and also know how to handle the problematic schedule that comes with playing in Europe’s second-tier competition, reaching last season’s semi-finals.
Leipzig lost last time out to Celtic and need a win with the Bhoys expected to succeed at Rosenborg.
Despite being the huge favourites, consistency has been an issue for Die Bullen, losing two of their last three, and, having gone down to their close partners in September, it could be another tough night for Ralph Rangnick’s men.
Celtic to win to zero @ 17/10
Speaking of Celtic, they travel to Trondheim for the third time in 15 months, having also played Rosenborg in Champions League qualifying in each of the last two seasons.
Crashing out of the top-level tournament hurt the Bhoys but they seem to have regrouped and will be encouraged by the fact that they have conceded just once in those five recent encounters with Rosenborg.
The Norwegians have lost all four of their Europa League group outings and are unlikely to get anything from Thursday’s match.
Arsenal to win to zero @ 31/20
The English team in action at 17:55 is Arsenal as they make the long trip east to take on Ukrainian outfit Vorskla Poltava.
Unai Emery is again likely to rotate for this game, especially with his side already having booked their progress from Group E, a run that included a 4-2 win over Vorskla.
On that occasion, the Gunners were cruising before conceding two late goals and will be keen to make a point against a team who only sit fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League and are on a run of three straight defeats.
Although the Zeleno-Bili have an outside chance of qualification, Arsenal are a class above and should have no issues on Thursday.
Zenit to win and both to score @ 27/10
One pool where there is still plenty to play for is Group C where Zenit St Petersburg lead on eight points, with Slavia Prague on seven and Thursday’s visitors to the ‘The Venice of the North’, Copenhagen, on five.
A win will guarantee Zenit’s progress and history is on their side, having qualified for the knockouts in each of their previous three outings in this competition.
They have also won their last 11 games on home soil and face a team who have won just one of their seven Europa League games on the road.
Copenhagen do have Dame N‘Doye, though, the former Hull and Sunderland-man scoring 10 times already this season.
While an away victory is unlikely, goals are, with five of the Danes’ last six producing over 2.5 goals and the home win and both teams to score looks the way to go.
Chelsea to win to zero @ 21/20
Of the 8pm games, domestic interest will mainly focus on Stamford Bridge where Chelsea welcome PAOK in Group L.
The Blues are real contenders to win this tournament and have won all four of their games to date. With qualification assured, a point will settle top spot in their favour.
PAOK sit third and a surprise win could see them move into the qualification spots depending on the outcome of BATE Borisov against MOL Vidi.
That would be a real upset though, and Chelsea have a particularly good record against Greek opposition, avoiding defeat in five matches.
It looks set to be a comfortable home win, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek might be worth a nibble at 9/4 in the Anytime Scorer market.
Rangers v Villarreal – Draw @ 53/20
Steven Gerrard is yet to lose a home game as Rangers boss but faces arguably his toughest test when Villarreal come to town.
Group G has been extremely competitive, with just two points separating the four sides and while Rangers cannot qualify on Thursday, they could be eliminated with a defeat and a Spartak Moscow win over Rapid Vienna.
El Submarino Amarillo are unbeaten in this season’s competition and a win will guarantee their progress.
However, this group has been extremely tight and with so much to play for, a point apiece looks a likely outcome.
Besiktas to win @ 23/20
Moving on to Group I where Besiktas can get their first win since Matchday One when they travel to Sarpsborg.
The Norwegians have been the surprise package of this season’s tournament and have amassed some real experience in the 12 games they have played to this point.
Geir Bakke’s side have also provided plenty of fun, with both teams to score outcomes occurring in eight of those 12 fixtures but the fact they have kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 at home in all competitions has to be a worry.
Besiktas are hardly convincing on the road, winning just one of their last nine away. However, they have experience on their side, having qualified from the Europa League group stages in three of their previous four attempts.
That knowhow could make the difference and the away win looks the right price in what could be a thriller.
Malmo v Genk – Draw @ 51/20
Finally to the other game in that pool and Malmo and Genk will be looking to take their own potentially vital step towards qualification.
The Belgians top Group I, two points above Thursday’s opponents but face a team on a run of 11 unbeaten, a streak that improves when you discover they have not lost any of their last 17 at home.
To balance that, Genk have lost just one of their last 13 on the road and despite occasionally lacking focus, should be motivated for this one.
These two seem hard to split and in a tense affair, a share of the points looks a sensible outcome.
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