FOOTBALL analyst Ben Levene (@benlevene96) oversees Thursday night's Europa League qualification action.
Zenit v Molde | Thursday 23rd August 2018, 17:00
Zenit blitzed Dinamo Minsk 8-1 after extra-time last Thursday, after losing 4-0 in Belarus a week prior.
The St Petersburg based outfit are a different animal at home. Russia is a notoriously place to travel, and there’s substance behind that.
Zenit’s Europa League home-record over a number of years reads W16-D2-L1. The two sides who held them were Sevilla and more recently Leipzig, whilst only Israeli side Bnei Yehuda were able to upset the odds – even then, Zenit still qualified as they’d won the away leg beforehand.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde aren’t particularly good travellers. They lost away to Glenavon earlier in qualification and were held 0-0 at Hibernian.
Zenit have won all three home matches under new boss Sergie Semak, scoring at least four in two of those.
We can back the Russian hosts with a -1 handicap at 10/11 (Betfair)
Sigma Olomouc v Sevilla | Thursday 23rd August 2018, 18:00
New Sevilla-boss Pablo Machin will be content with his start to life in charge. They kicked-off their La Liga campaign with a 4-1 win away Rayo Vallecano on Saturday and gave a good account of themselves in the Spanish Super Cup when 2-1 losers to Barcelona.
Machin’s marches are fast starters. Sevilla have been winning at both half-time and full-time in five of six under their new boss, the exception was versus Barcelona, and even then, they went 1-0 up after 10 minutes.
Machin had his Girona side operate in similar fashion last season, too. They scored inside the first-half in 20 of 38 La Liga games, and landed the half-time/full-time double result in 10 of those.
Sevilla travel to Czech side Sigma Olomouc who have lost three on the bounce domestically. There is a clear gulf in class between these two-sides and Sevilla benefit from a days extra rest.
We can back Sevilla to be winning at both half-time and full-time at a generous 11/10 (Bet Victor). They’ve landed this market in their Europa League trips away in Hungary and Lithuania so far this season.
Rangers v FC Ufa | Thursday 23rd August 2018, 19:45
Unlike Zenit, Russian counterparts FC Ufa could be in for a long Thursday. They travel to Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, who now have a fair bit of momentum behind them.
The Gers are nine games undefeated under Gerrard, keeping four clean sheets in six Europa League ties during that time.
Ufa do have a wealth of experience within their ranks, but they’ve won just one of 18 competitive away games. They are also taking no fans with them to Ibrox.
There is still some 4/6 (Bet365) available around Rangers, and I expect that to be shorter come kick-off.
Zenit v Molde – Zenit -1 handicap (10/11 Betfair)
Sigma Olomouc v Sevilla – Sevilla/Sevilla half-time/full-time (11/10 Bet Victor)
Rangers v FC Ufa – Rangers to win (4/6 Bet365)