Europa League: Milan may blow away Croatian challengers

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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 evening kick-offs.

AC Milan v Rijeka | Thursday 28th September 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport

AC Milan were installed as pre-tournament Europa League favourites and the Rossoneri began their campaign in style, dismantling Austria Vienna 5-1 in their own backyard.

Summer signing Andre Silva scored a hat-trick in Vienna but even he was eclipsed by a virtuoso performance from Hakan Calhanoglu. Both players have struggled to make their mark on Vincenzo Montella’s Serie A side but should come back into the XI for Thursday night’s contest against Rijeka.

Following a lavish window of transfer activity, Milan’s squad is well stocked and capable of competing in European competition so whilst numerous changes are expected, there’s still more than enough quality in the ranks for the Rossoneri to justify their short odds here.

In fact, I’ve enough confidence in Milan to back the Italians with a -1.5 start on the Asian Handicap line at 8/11 (BetVictor) – backing this selection will see us paid out should the home side win by a margin of two goals or more.

The new-look side have struggled on their travels – Sunday’s defeat at Sampdoria was sloppy and a little concerning – but they’ve proven reliable operators at San Siro, especially against the lesser lights.

Milan have won all three of their home Serie A games and it’s five victories from five when including the Europa League. Indeed, Montella’s men have notched 14 goals in those five outings and I’d fancy the players with plenty to prove to once again step-up on Thursday evening.

Croatian champions Rijeka are playing Europa League football for the third time in five seasons but they’ve never reached the knockout stage in that time. Their lack of progression can be attributed to their poor road record (W0-D1-L5) in the group stage, failing to score in each defeat.

The Croatian champions sold top scorer Franko Andrijasevic in the summer and have failed to replace him so it’s not a huge shock to see the visitors trailing Dinamo Zagreb by four points in their domestic league.

Rijeka were beaten 2-1 when welcoming AEK Athens in their opening – managing only eight shots and two on-target – and suffered a similar fate against Olympiakos during Champions League qualification.

Lyon v Atalanta | Thursday 28th September 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport

Group E from the Europa League is devilishly difficult to call. The only pool in this season’s competition to feature three teams from the top five domestic leagues, it has the potential to produce numerous watchable showdowns.

Semi-finalists last spring, Lyon lost several big-hitters in the close season but still have their sights set on a strong showing in the 2017/18 edition. President Jean-Michel Aulas claims he has five or six stars of tomorrow in the ranks as Les Gones bid to reach the final of the competition their home stadium is hosting.

Mariano Diaz has already made a positive impression as Alexandre Lacazette’s replacement in attack and Bertrand Traore has also been quick to make an impact. With Nabil Fekir back to full fitness, Lyon have the attacking tools to match most in Europe’s secondary club competition.

Bruno Genesio’s boys didn’t make the ideal start, mind. OL shipped a stoppage-time leveller in Cyprus to pick up only a point at group outsiders Apollon Limassol despite creating more chances and fashioning numerous opportunities both before and after taking the lead.

Further frustration has followed in Ligue 1. Les Gones were held to a 3-3 draw by relegation battlers Dijon in their last outing at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais to make it just a sole success in six across all competitions.

Lyon’s issues clearly stem from the defence. The hosts shipped 10 goals in six knockout Europa League games last season, have failed to shutout any of their past eight visitors in Europa League action whilst each of their past nine matches in this competition have rewarded Both Teams To Score backers.

That’s going to be my angle again here with 5/7 (888) available to support. A sub market which I can’t find anywhere right now that would be supersede this would be Atalanta double chance and Both Teams To Score – if you see it, please do let me know.

BTTS has banked in seven of Lyon’s last eight Europa League ties here and although they ousted Italian opposition (Roma) in last season’s tournament, we’ve already highlighted why they might appear a little vulnerable.

Atalanta arrive on the back of a thumping 3-0 triumph over Everton in their first continental clash since 1991. Unlike the majority of Serie A sides, the Bergamo-based club are taking their European commitments very seriously and so we should expect a strong XI from Gian Piero Gasperini’s group.

La Dea punched above their weight to finish fourth in the top-flight last term and lost a couple of their best performers in Frank Kessie and Andrea Conti during the summer. But the club have recruited well, have a burgeoning youth system and a wonderful coach in charge.

After a slow start to 2017/18, Atalanta have W3-D2-L0 across all competitions and probably could have enhanced that return on Sunday at Fiorentina. La Dea drew 1-1 but had La Viola on the ropes for the majority of the second-half before finally finding an equaliser late on.

Last season the visitors were strong travellers – only Napoli fewer away defeats as the Bergamo boys avoided defeat at Napoli, Roma and Milan amongst others. And should Alejandro Gomez find anything close to his best form, Atalanta should have more than enough about them to get on the scoresheet here.

Best Bets

AC Milan v Rijeka – AC Milan -1.5 Asian Handicap (8/11 BetVictor)

Lyon v Atalanta – Both Teams To Score (5/7 888)

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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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