MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Thursday night’s Europa League coupon.
Celta Vigo v Panathinaikos | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
A pointless return from their first three games wasn’t what Celta Vigo boss Eduardo Berizzo has envisioned at the start of 2016/17 and although the Sky Blues were embarrassed at home to newly-promoted Leganes, defeats at Real and Atletico Madrid were to be expected.
The Spaniards have since recovered (W2-D2-L0) across their past four games with the departure of Nolito and the injury to Fabian Orellana holding back their forward play. But with Giuseppe Rossi finding his range and Iago Aspas and John Guidetti to call upon, Celta have the firepower to hurt teams.
Their opening 1-1 draw in Liege was a bit of a damp squib but Berizzo’s boys won at Espanyol at the weekend – no mean feat – and look worth backing at 8/11 (Bet365) quotes to pile more away-day misery on Panathinaikos.
The Greek season was delayed by a fortnight because of fears of violence in the country and although Pana have W5-D3-L2 across all competitions since starting Europa League qualifying in July, the Greens have yet to impress on their travels.
A Europa League preliminary triumph at AIK and a win at struggling Levadiakos have come alongside disappointing draws at Aris, Panaitolikos and Brondby. Looking purely at away domestic league results, the visitors have W8-D4-L7 since the start of last season.
Ex-Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni is now in charge but he’ll have to make-do without suspended Mubarak Wakaso and Ivan Ivanov here whilst it’s also worth noting the Greeks have failed win any of their last 10 away games in European group-stage competition.
Having W0-D1-L12 in their previous 13 visits to Spain and opening with a poor 2-1 defeat to Ajax as hosts, I’m backing Celta to pick up maximum points.
Fiorentina v Qarabag | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Fiorentina were disappointed to pick up just a point against Milan at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday night as Josip Ilicic missed a penalty and La Viola failed to make their dominance pay on the night in a 0-0 draw.
The Italians have W2-D2-L1 from their opening five Serie A showdowns but beat both Chievo and Roma 1-0 in front of their home fans and also gave champions Juventus a decent run for their money in Turin on the opening weekend.
A goalless draw at PAOK in matchday one represented a reasonable start from a potentially tricky trip to Greece and it should be noted that Paolo Sousa’s side won the shot, shots-on-target and corner count during that encounter.
It means Fiorentina have shipped just two goals across their last five fixtures and kept three successive clean sheets as hosts. The 2015 Europa League semi-finalists should therefore prove too strong for Azerbaijani champions Qarabag in Florence on Thursday night,
The Horsemen have W5-D5-L2 this season but have W1-D3-L2 on their travels this term, including failing to win a Champions League qualifier at Luxembourg outfit Dudelange.
In the past year, Spurs, Monaco, Anderlecht and Gothenburg have all seen off Qarabag on home soil and having scraped a last-minute equaliser when welcoming Slovan Liberec on matchday one, I’m sure Fiorentina can show their class and take care of matters.
I’ll back Fiorentina with a -1 Asian Handicap start at 39/40 (888). This selection would see our stake returned should La Viola only manage a one-goal win.
Ajax v Standard Liege | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Ajax have proven a profitable team follow on WLB this season thanks to their kamikaze new head coach Peter Bosz.
We suggested opposing the Amsterdammers way back in Champions League qualifying whilst also promoting the idea that goals could be fruitful in the Dutch club’s games this season and so it proved at Panathinaikos on matchday one.
Having tipped Both Teams To Score in Greece I decided to watch the match unfold and whilst it was low on quality, Ajax showed their intent to play bold, front-foot football under Bosz, banking a winning bet during a 2-1 triumph.
So I’m not prepared to deviate from a goals angle on Thursday night when the four-time European Cup winners welcome Standard Liege to the capital.
Since Bosz was appointed, Ajax have seen 9/13 (69%) matches break the Over 2.5 Goals mark, 5/13 (38%) feature four goals or more with 9/13 (69%) seeing both sides score. The hosts have kept just four clean sheets and have scored in every game themselves.
Standard pitch up in Amsterdam having proven just as fruitful in the goals markets when playing away this season. The Belgians have seen four of their six games as guests produce Over 2.5 Goals and the same number bank in the BTTS market.
Liege opened with a creditable 1-1 draw against Celta and looking at their Europa League trips since 2010, the visitors have only failed to score in four of their 19 outings.
I’ll back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 13/10 (Coral).
Schalke v Red Bull Salzburg | Thursday 18.00 | BT Sport Extra
Schalke have made their worst start to a Bundesliga season in their history under new head coach Markus Weinzierl. The Royal Blues have lost all five of their league encounters although performances haven’t been quite as awful as the results suggests.
The suggestion is Weinzierl has just two games to save his job but the Europa League can offer the under-fire boss respite with three points entirely plausible when Red Bull Salzburg arrive at the Veltins Arena.
Schalke were richly-deserved 1-0 winners in Nice in matchday one and certainly have the squad to cope with the rigours of performing across two competitions should the ex-Augsburg coach decide to rest and rotate.
The Austrians have taken six of the last eight titles domestically but are currently four points off the summit and have failed to record victories in two of their last four away days.
Salzburg lost their Europa League opener 1-0 at home to Krasnodar and have also suffered four defeats in their last five away days in this competition. At the prices, I’m more than happy to invest faith in Schalke getting it right here – they’re 13/17 (Marathon), which is a smidgen better than 3/4 quotes.
Dundalk v Maccabi Tel Aviv | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport ESPN
Dundalk became the first Irish side to pick up a point in European group-stage competition when equaliser late on in Alkmaar during matchday one and I reckon Stephen Kenny’s underdogs can play their part in an enjoyable Thursday night contest against Maccabi Tel Aviv from a compact Tallaght stadium.
The Lilywhites were the more enterprising side when hosting Legia Warsaw in their losing Champions League qualifier in Dublin before a debateable penalty turned the game against the domestic champions – it was just the third occasion in 20 that Dundalk had failed to find the back of the net.
The hosts put three past BATE Borisov in a memorable 3-0 win back in August and scored in the return leg in Poland against Legia. Chuck in that welcome goal against AZ a fortnight ago and there’s plenty of reason to believe Kenny’s charges can get on the scoresheet against Maccabi.
The Israeli runners-up currently top the standings back home but suffered an incredible implosion when hosting Zenit St Petersburg in matchday one. Leading 3-0 with 20 minutes to play, Tel Aviv contrived to thrown the game away, losing 4-3 in front of their home fans.
That Zenit showdown was the seventh successive Europa League game involving Maccabi to feature both sides scoring and with 12 of their last 13 featuring Over 2.5 Goals winners, I’m going to count on another goal-heavy game here.
Over 2.5 Goals can be snapped up at 13/10 (BetStars) but I’ll be backing BTTS at 15/14 (888).
Celta Vigo v Panathinaikos – Celta Vigo to win (8/11 Bet365)
Fiorentina v Qarabag – Fiorentina -1 Asian Handicap (39/40 888)
Ajax v Standard Liege – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (13/10 Coral)
Schalke v Red Bull Salzburg – Schalke to win (13/17 Marathon)
Dundalk v Maccabi Tel Aviv – Both Teams To Score (15/14 888)