Europa League: Macedonian outsiders can make their mark

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EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) made us a small fortune on the Europa League last season. Here’s his favourite fancies from Thursday’s early kick-offs.

Rosenborg v Vardar | Thursday 28th September 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport

Group L is my major focus for the second matchday of the Europa League with the contest between Rosenborg and Vardar standing out.

Lumped in alongside Real Sociedad and Zenit, neither of these sides were expected to feature in the shake-up for a top-two finish but even so, heavy 4-0 (Rosenborg) and 5-0 (Vardar) losses in their campaign curtain-raisers a fortnight ago were far from ideal.

For Rosenborg, Champions League ambitions were shattered in the play-off stage of qualifying but the Norwegians managed to sneak past Ajax in Europa League preliminary action despite all the stats bar the scoreline going against them.

The wonderfully nicknamed Troll Children are on track to record another domestic title and the odds makers believe Kare Ingebrigtsen’s charges are hot 1/2 (Bet365) favourites to come out on top here in Trondheim.

However, there’s only a 7.5-point gap between Rosenborg and Vardar in UEFA’s team coefficient rankings that suggest this showdown might not be so clear-cut.

Vardar pulled off one of the shocks of the eliminators in seeing off Istanbul heavyweights Fenerbahce, notching stoppage-time goals to clinch home and away victories over the Turks. The first Macedonian outfit to reach European group-stage competition, the Skopje side also drew in Malmo.

The Red & Blacks have scored in each of their four away continental ties this term and although Expected Goals stats show Zenit were dominant in their opener, Vardar actually held their own in the shots (13-13) and shots on-target (5-5) stats from their first fixture.

Rosenborg haven’t reached the knockout rounds of the Europa League since 2000 and their only clean sheets at home in this competition across their last 11 outings came against Icelandic and Faroese clubs.

Vardar are well capable of grabbing a goal and are 5/6 (BetVictor) to do so.

Zenit v Real Sociedad | Thursday 28th September 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport

Only four eastern European clubs have ever claimed the Europa League or UEFA Cup title but Zenit could again be the most likely candidate from the region to go well this season.

The Russians were champions in 2008 and have played in the knockout stages of the competition in each of the past seven years. The Lions have been consistent performers – claiming W15-D1-L0 in their past 16 home group games in this competition since 2008/09 and look value odds-against shots here.

Only Arsenal appeared above Zenit in UEFA’s coefficients and Europa League fans will remember the hosts topped Group A last term with a W5-D0-L1 record, scoring 17 goals. They were eventually (and surprisingly) dumped out by Anderlecht on away goals in the Last 32 – their earliest exit since 2009/10.

Roberto Mancini’s now in charge and the Lions are certainly roaring in the Russian Premier League. Still unbeaten, Zenit are four points clear of the pack and have been especially eye-catching at their new Krestovsky Stadium home (W4-D1-L0) on domestic duty.

A flock of Argentineans arrived in the summer – Leandro Paredes, Emmanuel Mammana, Sebastian Druissi and Emiliano Rigoni – as part of a major squad overhaul but all appears well in St Petersburg. The hosts have recorded six consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League and will fancy their chances here.

Real Sociedad slipped to a third straight La Liga loss on Sunday night in a thrilling encounter at home to Valencia. The Basques were caught out on the counter-attack and are conceding goals at an alarming rate – in five of their first seven games the visitors have leaked at least two goals.

Eusebio Sacristán’s men thrashed Rosenborg 4-0 at Anoeta in their opener but still gave up enough opportunities to concern and in La Real’s most recent road trip they were humbled 3-0 at Levante.

This is Sociedad’s first foray into Europe for four years and they look worth opposing for the intimidating trip east. Zenit can be backed at 5/4 (BetStars).

Best Bets

Rosenborg v Vardar – Vardar to score Over 0.5 Goals (5/6 BetVictor)

Zenit v Real Sociedad – Zenit to win (5/4 BetStars)

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About Author

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After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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