MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from matchday three of the Europa League on Thursday night.
Qabala v Borussia Dortmund | Thursday 17.00 | BT Sport Extra
I’m sure my first pick might surprise a few. Dortmund make the long journey to Azerbaijan to face an unfamiliar foe in Group C – FK Qabala. The Radars entered the competition at the first qualifying round but having bagged three home wins a draw against Panathinaikos in in the play-off fixture at their adopted Baku home, the hosts pocketed a place in the group-stages for the very first time.
Despite playing their ’home’ fixtures three hours away from their Qabala City stadium, the Radars have yet to concede a goal on Azerbaijani soil in continental competition. Having held PAOK Salonika to a goalless draw in their ribbon-cutter before losing out 2-1 at FC Krasnodar, last year’s third-place team in Azerbaijan’s top tier are no walkover.
The hosts have a solid Ukrainian base with goalkeeper Dmytro Bezotosniy, centre-back Vitaliy Vernydub and holding midfielder Olexiy Gai allowing Brazilian captain Dodo to pull the strings from midfield. Qabala do lack a strapping centre-forward but their often defence-first tactics in Europe has frustrated many and their aerial game can cause problems.
Dortmund snapped a streak of four winless games on Friday, beating Mainz 2-0 away from home. After beating Krasnodar 2-1 and drawing 1-1 with PAOK, the Black & Yellows have a great chance of pulling clear at the top of the pool with three points but might the side be a little leggy after the five-hour flight? Potentially.
On their last outing to PAOK, Thomas Tuchel left five of his big-hitters behind but Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ilkay Gundogan all made the trip with Neven Subotic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan left behind – the latter because of the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Sure, it’s an excellent squad and Tuchel will be hoping to kill the game early so the Bundesliga side can begin preparing for Sunday’s showdown with Augsburg. But I don’t see them running up a cricket score. The visitors have only once won by more than two goals on the road this term (W7-D3-L1) and Qabala can be backed at 13/19 (BetVictor) with a +2.25 Asian handicap start. That’s just under 7/10 and 1.68 in decimals.
Should the Azerbaijani side win, draw or lose by one goal we have ourselves a winner and should Dortmund win by exactly two goals, we’ll win half of that potential full pay-out. The only way in which we won’t make profit is if the visitors run out winners by three goals or more – a margin lost by Qabala at home just once since 2007.
AZ Alkmaar v Augsburg | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
AZ Alkmaar are perched right in the centre of the Eredivisie after nine matches (W3-D3-L3) and that’s a record that includes W2-D1-L2 on home soil. However, the Cheese Farmers can call upon an excellent Europa League record as hosts in the past five years.
The Dutch outfit are a regular in this competition and since 2010 they’ve W16-D4-L4 when entertaining continental competitors. Udinese, Valencia and most recently Athletic Bilbao have been downed at the AFAS Stadion whilst domestic results also display four consecutive victories for John van den Brom’s men by an aggregate score of 14-4.
AZ are backable at 11/14 off a +0.25 Asian Handicap start on Thursday night – that’s a tick under 4/5, representing great value. Should the hosts win, we’ll pick up a full pay-out but should the match end all square, we’ll still profit by taking half of that potential full pay-out. Again, the only way we’ll lose out is if Augsburg pick up an unlikely three points.
The Bavarian guests are in a real pickle right now with a 2-0 home defeat to newly-promoted Darmstadt the latest low for highly-rated boss Markus Weinzierl. The Fuggerstädter are now rock bottom of the Bundesliga having won just once in nine and their debut European campaign has already taken a turn for the worse with an away loss in Bilbao followed by a dreadful 3-1 defeat to Partizan Belgrade on home soil.
Augsburg are really struggling to juggle playing twice a week right now and are likely to have one eye on another tough encounter this Sunday – a trip to Dortmund. I’ll back the hosts to avoid defeat.
Braga v Marseille | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport Extra
Braga have been regulars in European competition in recent seasons and the 2011 Europa League runners-up are hoping to make it three wins from three in Group F when out-of-sorts Marseille travel to Portugal.
The Archbishops arrive at this match in wonderful form – W5-D1-L0 – and have conceded just twice in eight matches now. Both Slovan Liberec and Groningen were beaten ‘to nil’ whilst their home record reads W19-D5-L3 since the start of last season.
Paulo Fonseca’s troops look overpriced for this tie and I’ll take advantage by backing Braga at 11/13 (Marathon) in the Draw No Bet market. If the game ends in a draw, we’ll get our cash back but should the Archbishops win, we win. Again, it’s an odd price but is pretty much the same as a 17/20 play. Decent, eh?
Marseille, Thursday’s visitors, are in a mess. A disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Lorient left their vocal support unhappy with the team’s display and made their return from 2015/16 read a worryingly bad W3-D3-L6.
Michel’s men are winless in six, have W2-D1-L3 on the road this term and having lost to Slovan Liberec in their last Europa League tie are probably going to find the going tough at the Estádio Municipal de Braga.
Slovan Liberec v Groningen | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport Extra
Finally, Slovan Liberec are nestled nicely in third in their domestic title race after opening up their new campaign with W5-D4-L1 from first 10 fixtures. And the Blue-Whites look a decent play at 17/20 (Betfred) to make it six Europa League wins from seven this term already.
The Czechs came through qualifying in flying colours and their 1-0 reverse to Braga remains their only continental defeat in the competition this season. That loss also dampened an outstanding run of results on home soil W12-D2-L2.
But it’s Groningen who really put this punt into focus. The Green-White Army have been desperate travellers for quite some time now – their W6-D6-L13 doesn’t look so bad on first glance but two of those victories came at lower tier Dutch sides in the cup and the visitors have lost all five of their away days this season without even scoring a goal.
Marseille stuffed Groningen 3-0 in the Netherlands whilst Braga beat Erwin van de Looi’s men in Portugal by a solitary goal – it was the only one of those five losses to arrive by fewer than two goals with the Green-White Army being hammered 5-0 in their last road trip at Vitesse.