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.
Slavia Prague v Villarreal | Thursday 2nd November 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport
Slavia Prague saw their Champions League qualification dreams go up in smoke in August. The Czech title holders suffered a 2-0 defeat away at APOEL despite winning the shot count 12-5 and enjoying a 1.87 – 0.71 supremacy on xG.
The Red & Whites were unable to turn the tie around when returning to Prague with Jaroslav Silhavy’s side struggled to justify their lavish summer spending. Bankrolled by Chinese ownership, Slavia snapped up the likes of Danny, Halil Atintop, Ruslan Rotan and Miroslav Stoch.
It took the team a while to get over their Champions League failure but the capital club are starting to come to the fore. Runaway domestic leaders Viktoria Plzen might be over the hill but the Red & Whites have now lost once in 15 fixtures and are in line to secure knockout football in the Europa League.
It’s tight in Group A but Slavia are top of the tree at the midway point, unbeaten in three (W1-D2-L0) including away trips at both Villarreal and Astana, their nearest challengers. In fact, Silhavy’s troops led 2-0 when visiting Villarreal a fortnight ago in Spain before settling for a point apiece.
Slavia have W8-D1-L1 at their Eden Arena home this term, recording eight clean sheets so backing the underdogs to avoid defeat in the return tussle with Villarreal looks like real value. The hosts can be supported with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 16/19 (BetVictor).
Villarreal have improved under new boss Javier Calleja but the Yellow Submarine have often struggled to transfer their positive home performances to their travels. The visitors have picked up a point at Atletico Madrid on Saturday but have only beaten rock-bottom Alaves and newly-promoted Girona in eight games as guests across all competitions.
The La Liga outfit are regular competitors in the Europa League but have bagged only three triumphs in 12 away days since 2015/16, suggesting they’re a little overrated in the pre-match markets and possibly vulnerable favourites here.
Expect a cagey encounter. Under 2.5 Goals has landed in seven of Slavia’s 10 home ties this term, as well as four of their last five Europa League matches in Prague. It’s a similar story in four of Villarreal’s past five away European outings.
In fact, stick the Under 2.5 Goals and Asian Handicap angles together and we can back Slavia double chance and Under 2.5 Goals at an attractive 6/4 with 188BET. That’ll do.
Rijeka v Austria Vienna | Thursday 2nd November 2017, 18:00 | BT Sport
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 (W1-D1-L6) in the group stage, failing to score in five of those six losses.
The Whites sold top scorer Franko Andrijasevic in the summer and failed to adequately replace him so it’s not a huge shock to see Wednesday night’s hosts struggling to recapture last season’s outstanding efforts. Even at this early stage, back-to-back titles appears out of reach.
However, Rijeka’s 3-1 victory away at Austria Vienna a fortnight ago has put Matjaz Kek’s charges back in the running for a top-two finish in Group D. Although the Whites weren’t particularly dominant two weeks ago, their performances against AEK Athens and AC Milan in defeat deserved more.
In all three outings Rijeka have caused opposition defences problems and that’s reflected in the performance data with the Croats boasting positive xG supremacy figures plus solid shots in the box and shots on-target ratio returns.
Although recent form – four defeats in six – suggests the Whites are too short to entertain here, I disagree. In fact, I’m recommending a punt on Rijeka double chance and Over 2.5 Goals at 4/5 with 188BET.
The visitors from Vienna have a host of injury problems and make the journey with up to 11 players potentially missing out. The Violets have W0-D1-L4 of their last five and have already shipped 10 goals in their three Europa League dates.
Vienna have only failed to score twice in 10 away days, mind. And head coach Thorsten Fink is well aware his team must attack if they’re to stand any chance of keeping their qualification dreams alive.
Goals should therefore be plentiful. Twelve of Austria Vienna’s 16 games since mid-August have produced Over 2.5 Goals whilst 11 of Rijeka’s 15 have followed suit over a similar sample of matches.