EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) reckons he’s a few value bets from the evening Europa League kick-offs on Thursday.
Schalke v Krasnodar | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
Schalke made their worst ever start to a Bundesliga season this term, losing their first five matches, but they have steadily been building momentum under new coach Markus Weinzierl.
The Royal Blues have taken eight points from their following four matches and impressed during the first-half of the Ruhr derby against bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund on Saturday evening.
Schalke have won all three of their Europa League ties, too. Put the two runs of results together and the guys from Gelsenkirchen can boast a W5-D2-L0 return since late September, scoring 15 goals and keeping four clean sheets.
Winning away at Krasnodar a fortnight ago in a tight encounter was very un-Schalke but the Royal Blues really seem to have found their groove of late and I’m a little surprised to see them trading at odds as big as 4/6 (BetBright) here.
The Bundesliga boys bagged a 1-0 win at Ligue 1 leaders Nice on matchday one, out-shooting the French club 21-9 and followed it up with a cushy 3-1 success against Salzburg at their Veltins Arena home – Schalke fired in another 21 efforts at goal in that matchday two triumph.
So whilst their win in Russia wasn’t quite so convincing, the fact Weinzierl’s charges are getting into strong scoring positions whilst keeping the backdoor shut suggests they’re coming to the boil nicely. For the record, Schalke have fired in 38 shots from inside the penalty area on Europa League duty, facing only 14.
Krasnodar certainly won’t be pushover opponents having W11-D7-L3 across all competitions this season but the Bulls lack of offensive threat could prove their undoing in Germany. The visitors have scored more than a solitary strike on two occasions since mid-August when excluding the domestic cup.
Indeed, three of those aforementioned 11 triumphs for Krasnodar came against minnows Birkirkara and Partizani Tirana during Europa League qualification and bar a thunderous 5-2 thumping of Nice in Russia, the guest have floundered in the final third during the group-stage.
Last season the Black-Greens lost away to an understrength Dortmund side and a year earlier Wolfsburg also saw off Krasnodar on home turf. And in away trips to clubs from Europe’s top-five leagues, the Russians have W1-D1-L3.
FC Zurich v Steaua Bucharest | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
Swiss cup winners FC Zurich suffered relegation from the Super League last season following an unhappy spell with Sami Hyypia in charge. But Uli Forte has rejuvenated the City Club and an immediate return to the big time already looks on the cards thanks to a W10-D3-L0 start.
A 2-1 reverse at Villarreal on matchday one is Zurich’s only defeat in 19 this term, a run of results that includes dumping top-tier St Gallen out of the Swiss Cup just last week. But it’s been Zurich’s performances in the Europa League that have caught my eye.
Forte’s group were understandably second-best against Villarreal but dominated Osmanlispor (2-1 win) and Thursday’s opposition Steaua Bucharest (1-1 draw) without really justifying their displays in the full-time result.
The City Club fired in 32 efforts over the two games, 22 of which came from inside the penalty area and 16 were on-target. They created three golden opportunities and barely gave up any chances of note despite conceding goals in each game.
Should Zurich continue in the same vein on Thursday night at their Letzigrund base, I’ll happily snap up the 13/10 (Betfred) available on a home success.
Steaua’s season started in mid-July but following an excellent early run into August, the Romanians have failed to put together a winning streak longer than two matches.
The Army Men arrive having W4-D3-L1 in their last eight but they managed a sole shutout in that sample and looked pretty poor during their 2-0 reverse at Osmanlispor in this competition.
Since 2013, Steaua have W5-D5-L9 on their continental travels but exclude qualifiers and that record quickly drops to just W0-D2-L7.
I’ll count on the hot Swiss side to continue their excellent recent run.
Villarreal v Osmanlispor | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport Extra
I’ll keep this final fancy short and sweet…
Villarreal have won each of their last eight Europa League home matches and have also proven victorious in their last five fixtures at El Madrigal.
The Yellow Submarine suffered their first La Liga defeat o the season last weekend after conceding two late goals at Eibar but Fran Escriba’s troops should get back on track when Osmanlispor arrive.
The two teams drew 2-2 a fortnight ago – Villarreal deservedly battling back from two goals down to secure a point. The hosts have also beaten FC Zurich (2-1) convincingly and secured a point at Steaua Bucharest.
The Turks saw off Steaua (2-0) as hosts but lost (2-1) in Zurich before sharing the spoils with Villarreal. However, Osmanlispor are winless in seven now (W0-D4-L3) across all competitions and leaked at least twice in three of their past four away days.
Villarreal were Europa League semi-finals last season and should prove too classy for their out-of-form opposition here. With Match Odds too short on the Yellow Submarine, add in Over 1.5 Goals into a home win for a decent 17/20 (BetStars).
This selection will land should Villarreal win by any scoreline other than 1-0.
Schalke v Krasnodar – Schalke to win (4/6 BetBright)
FC Zurich v Steaua Bucharest – FC Zurich to win (13/10 Betfred)
Villarreal v Osmanlispor – Villarreal to win and Over 1.5 Goals (17/20 BetStars)