IT’S the final night of the Europa League group stage. Who is our man Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) backing in the early games?
Apollon Limassol v Villarreal | Thursday 18:00
My first selection from the early Europa League games comes from Cyprus. Villarreal need a win to confirm their place in the knockout stages, while the home side Apollon Limassol have nothing to play for with four defeats to their name over the their five group games.
Clearly that’s the message that’s been resonating around bookmakers heads when they priced up this fixture. Despite being the home side, Apollon are as big as 16/1 with BetVictor to pick up the three points. That’s quite simply too big.
Have Limassol been thoroughly humiliated in this group? I don’t think so. They kicked off the group with a superb 3-2 home win over FC Zurich in September, and yes they’ve struggled since. Home and away defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach were preceded by a 4-0 loss to Thursday’s opponents in Spain.
At the GSP Stadium in Nicosia though, they’ve been reasonable, with the 3-2 win over FC Zurich and a 2-0 loss to Monchengladbach. On top of that, they’ve picked up 13 points from the last 15 at home domestically. I don’t think they deserve to be such a huge price for this match.
Will they lose? Yeah most likely. All the emphasis is on Villarreal. Can they score? Yeah, I think so. They’ve scored in seven of their nine home fixtures this season while the Spanish side have leaked in seven of their eight away ties.
Betfred are offering 6/5 on the Cypriots just to score in this match. That’s enough for me.
Club Brugge v HJK Helsinki | Thursday 18:00
I reckon you could have backed HJK Helsinki at around 50/1 to qualify from this group on the morning of October 24th. The Finns had just crashed to a third consecutive group defeat and were four points adrift on the bottom berth. They hadn’t even scored a goal in Group B.
Fast forward six weeks though and incredibly they have a chance of reaching the knockout stage. Sensational wins over Torino and FC Copenhagen have propelled them back into the qualification picture. The final stop is a trip to Belgium, to face group leaders Club Brugge. This is where I think the fun ends.
Club Brugge as well as being top of the group, are on a massive 20 match unbeaten run in all competitions. They picked up two draws against Torino, dismembered FC Copenhagen 4-0 in Denmark and gave HJK a 3-0 crushing on Matchday 2 in their Sonera-Stadion. This is not a side to square up to.
Unbeaten at home all season, and having smashed 28 goals past their opponents in their last eight home games, don’t be shocked if Club Brugge hack up here. I’ll happily back them at Evens giving HJK a one goal head start. That’s with Skybet.