Europa League – Greek giants to keep newcomers quiet


BANG in-form world football fanatic James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) takes a look at the best betting opportunities from Thursday's Europa League coupon in games not involving British clubs.

Lazio v Marseille | Thursday 8th November 2018, 17:55 | BT Sport

Just like it did prior to matchday three in the Europa League, Lazio versus Marseille catches this eye in this round of fixtures. The two played out a very entertaining clash at the Stade Velodrome, with the Italians running out 3-1 winners. Despite that excellent away triumph, Simone Inzaghi’s men are still sitting second in Group 5 behind leaders Eintracht Frankfurt, who still possess a 100% record.

Marseille are now very much in a situation where they know that anything other than three points from their trip to Rome leaves their hopes of progressing to the next round all but impossible. A defeat certainly means they are out, whilst a draw gives them only a slim chance. This places plenty of pressure on Rudi Garcia’s side, who finished as runners-up of this competition last season.

The form guide sides with Lazio heading into this encounter. Le Aquile find themselves in fifth position in Serie A, 10 points behind expected league leaders Juventus. Their record to date proves that they are very much hit and miss, winning seven and losing four of their domestic dates. Zero draws further highlights their up and down nature.

We can say the same about Lazio's Europa League ventures so far as well. Prior to the fine win in Marseille, they were hammered 4-1 in Frankfurt. Still, they head into this on the back of a strong 4-1 home success over SPAL, after being soundly beaten at home to Inter a week before.

Ciro Immobile again is finding himself back among the goals. He already has eight to his name in Serie A, with only Polish forward Krzysztof Piatek of Genoa scoring more than he has.

Lazio were also in the Europa League last season, reaching the quarter-final stages before Red Bull Salzburg edged them 6-5 on aggregate. Inzaghi had a fairly kind group stage to start off with, and often rotated his side to eventually win a group contained Nice, Vitesse and Zulte Waregem. They are having to go stronger this time around, especially with their German counterparts running the show as things stand.

Marseille aren’t in the best of shape at this present moment. Like Lazio, they have the tendency to be one extreme or the other. Their 12 Ligue 1 matches so far has yielded six wins and five defeats, with only one draw. Including the loss in Lazio, it is three straight defeats for Les Olympiens.

Without a doubt L'OM's biggest issue are their performances on the road. Whilst they have won in Monaco and Nice this season, they’ve lost four from six, conceding 15 in the process. This means they have the worst defensive record away from home, conceding at least three in the trips to Nimes, Lyon, Lille, and at the weekend in Montpellier.

The Ligue 1 table is quite tight in the middle section, and whilst sixth doesn’t look too bad for Marseille on one hand, they’re only five points ahead of 13th position. Only runaway leaders Paris St-Germain have scored more than Marseille have, which is another telling factor of where some of their issues are. Fifteen of those 22 goals however have come playing in front of their own passionate supporters.

Even during their run to the final in the competition last season, Marseille still did not travel too kindly. Overall, they only actually won once on the road, which came in a 2-1 success at Athletic Bilbao to secure their spot in the quarter-finals.

These are the teams that Marseille travelled to and failed to return with three points from, including qualifiers: Oostende, Domzale, Red Bull Salzburg, Vitoria de Guimaraes, Konyaspor, Braga, Red Bull Leipzig and Salzburg again in the second leg of the semi-finals. Only once did they fail to win at home. They certainly rely heavily on the use of their own surroundings.

With that in mind, we simply cannot back Marseille for victory here, regardless of the fact they need that outcome to really given themselves a chance of progression. Lazio are in much better shape, and are certainly determined to make their mark as a club once again on the European stage. It is just a solitary UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup trophy to their name, along with the Super Cup the following season, and the Italian side sense the chance to make themselves heard in a competition of this nature.

The opening game of course ending 3-1 to Lazio, and another goal or two would have been more than possible based on chances created. We anticipated another relatively open game here.

Lazio are known for scoring a few goals in their stadium over quite a while now. Since February, only Juventus, Roma and Inter have managed to stop Lazio scoring at home. They already netted four versus both SPAL and Genoa at the Stadio Olimpico this season.

We’ve already touched upon Marseille’s struggles away from home. They simply concede far too many goals. They actually earned a 1-0 win in Mice as recently as last month, but that was an almightily rare occasion for them to keep a clean sheet.

The previous time Marseille did earn a clean sheet on the road was all the way back in February. That came in a 9-0 win over Bourg Peronnas in the Coupe de France, and the score reflects the quality of opposition they were facing. All of their scores on the road this season have been 3-1, 2-3, 4-2, 3-0, 2-2, 0-1 and 3-0. They can certainly score, but defensively they appear to be extremely vulnerable. Even when beating a free falling Monaco, they shipped twice in a 3-2 victory.

Lazio are certainly the team to side with here. Marseille need to win and will commit bodies forward, possibly to the point where Lazio expose them on the break on a few occasions. Immobile only needs half a sniff to find the back of the net.

Lazio to win and Over 1.5 Goals pays 1/1 (Coral). That represents a decent little amount of value. Focusing just on their league form, it is 73% and 92% for matches involving Lazio and Marseille respectively it terms of the 1.5 goal line being beaten.

Olympiakos v Dudelange | Thursday 8th November 2018, 20:00 | BT Sport

Olympiakos were in a bit of a state prior to their trip to Luxembourg when these two sides met last month, but since then they have started to become more like themselves.

It proved to be a rather comfortable success when travelling to Dudelange, albeit whilst having to be patient in waiting until the 66th minute to open the scoring. In the end, a strike from Vasilis Torosidis and an own goal by Edisson Jordanov secured the points for the Greeks.

Olympiakos have played a further three games in league and cup since then, winning them all. Therefore, they’re enjoying a four-game winning run, keeping clean sheets in them all. Pedro Martins is starting to get a tune out of his players, and a win here may put them inside the top-two qualification spots heading into the final two group fixtures.

If you recall, I did actually tip Dudelange in the Double Chance market in the last fixture. We rode out luck for a long time to give us brief hope of this paying off, but it would have been plenty of good fortune if Olympiakos didn’t manage to take any of their several openings. In the end, they outshot their opponents 28-8. Specifically for efforts on target, it was 11-1.

Bearing in mind Olympiakos were winless in four prior to this, and Dudelange gave Milan a real scare at home in the first Group F contest, this was good going from Olympiakos.

Dudelange have been a little hit and miss in the matches following. An expected emphatic win in the cup quickly followed, but a disappointing 3-1 home loss to Jeunesse Esch, who sit top of the Luxembourg National Division, meant spirits were low. They got back to winning ways at the weekend when despatching bottom side Rumelange 9-2, but the step up in class will really hit home once again on Thursday.

For all that they were outplayed on home soil first time around, a tough night in Athens is likely to await them. It is three games and three defeats for Dudelange in their maiden voyage into the Europa League. They’ve also failed to score in any of those losses. This can’t be a huge shock given the quality of opposition they are coming up against.

Dudelange will still be motivated game-by-game, even if it looks as though they won’t progress to the next stage. This may be their one and only opportunity to showcase themselves at an elite level like this, so they won’t rollover for anyone. Their mind-set going into Thursday will be important too. Will they turn up looking to park the bus? Will they have a go knowing that the reality is they’re almost certainly out anyway?

The bottom line is they are the weakest team in their group, and possibly in the entire group phase. All the pressure will be on Olympiakos, like it was first time around. They handled this with ease and with confidence levels returning to a higher level now, they’ll fancy their chances of earning another routine triumph.

Dudelange might be the highest-scorers in their domestic league, but their defence isn’t as rock solid as one might expect. They’ve conceded over double the amount of goals as the league leaders in the division have done. In fact, they have the worst defensive record out of any side in the top five.

Olympiakos are currently third in the Greek Super League table, with leaders PAOK being four-points ahead. Goals are few and far between in this league. Only three teams can say they have had more of their games beat the 2.5 line. Seven of Olympiakos’ nine league encounters have ended below this line. This suggests they aren’t prolific, and 12 goals in nine matches suggests that. Still, only four other teams at that level have netted more than they have.

Clearly it would be a huge shock for Thrylos to come away without earning maximum points here. There is very little evidence to suggest that Dudelange can cause a shock. Their time in this tournament is coming to an end, and just reaching this stage was a success in itself. They successfully kept the game at 0-0 for over an hour in the first leg, but they are likely to come under greater pressure here.

The Greeks in their familiar Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium are never easy to beat. Only twice in this calendar year have they tasted defeat here. They kept a clean sheet with Betis earlier in the group stage during a 0-0 draw, a match they Spaniards probably edged, granted.

Olympiakos have played 18 times at home in 2018. They have earned a clean sheet in 12 of those. Only three of those occasions did they fail to find the back of the net. All avenues point to Olympiakos being victorious here, alongside a clean sheet.

An Olympiakos win ‘to nil’ pays 4/6 (Coral). The stats suggest that Olympiakos are tough to beat at home. If the first meeting between these two is anything to go by, it should be another routine success for the Greek outfit.

Vorskla v Qarabag | Thursday 8th November 2018, 20:00 | BT Sport

Those who follow my selections will perhaps remember that I tipped up Qarabag to win a tight contest when Vorskla made the long journey to Azerbaijan. The Ukrainian side certainly ‘did a job’ in that encounter to punch a 1-0 victory to give them half a squeak of maybe pinching second spot in this group. Qarabag would have 10 shots to Vorskla’s three on the night. Both would achieve one shot on target, with Shakhtar Donetsk loanee Vladyslav Kulach netting the all-important goal early into the second half.

As things stand, Qarabag would need a minor miracle to have any chance of qualifying out of this group. They themselves will probably know that, so could begin to start ploughing all their efforts into domestic matters.

As for Vorskla, they’ve only got three points to their name thanks to winning on matchday three. However, another win on Thursday, combined with Arsenal defeating Sporting Lisbon at the Emirates Stadium would put Vorskla and Sporting level on points, and they’re still to meet again. That has to be the motivated for Vorskla, who are appearing in the Europa League group stages for the second time in their existence.

Vorskla, nicknamed Zeleno-Bili, have been transformed by their win over Qarabag. They’ve won their next three games afterwards, meaning they have into this contest on a four-game winning run (one being in the cup). Confidence therefore should be of no concern to manager Vasyl Sachko.

This leaves Vorskla fourth in the top-flight of Ukrainian football as things stand. They’re only five points behind Dynamo Kiev, who occupy second position, in a league that is largely dominated by Shakhtar. From their 14 league matches, it is eight wins and six defeats, with zero draws. This suggests that they can be great one week, and not so the next. Perhaps they needed a bit of time to find their feet this time around, as they’re starting to look a lot more like themselves as things stand.

Under the guidance of Gurban Gurbanov, Qarabag sit second in the Azerbaijan Premier League, a division they’ve won for the past five seasons in a row. They have a five-point gap to Neftci Baku to overcome, and their recent run of form has led to that gap appearing.

Whilst Qarabag defeat SumQayit 2-0 at home at the weekend, they didn’t win any of their five previous to that in all competitions. Whilst that also includes matches versus Arsenal and Vorskla, it also included a 1-1 away draw to Keshla, who have won only once all season in the Azerbaijani top-flight.

Comparing the league they play in to an elite level such as the Europa League is always tough. A team can be in excellent form domestically but often found out in Europe.

That appears to be the case with Qarabag this time around. They have been regulars in European competition for a good few years now. Over the last four seasons, and now this, they’ve been involved in three Europa League group stages and also once in the Champions League. The best they’ve achieved however is a third-placed finish on two of those occasions, so they’ve always been knocked out.

Qarabag generally save their best form for when at home, but defeat to Vorskla, a match they’d have expected to win, all but ended any hope of progression, realistically.

I believe there will be a motivation factor on show here. Qarabag are out, even if that is not official, the reality is that they are. The Qarabag squad and staff will have to endure a journey of roughly 1,000 miles each way. Given they aren’t the best of travellers anyway at this level, and with them looking like they’re already out, this is probably the last thing they want right now. It’s not as if it is a more attractive trip to Arsenal or Sporting, where they can try to enjoy the occasion.

Vorskla only had a crowd of just over 10,000 when Sporting visited in their only home group match to date. The ground holds just under 25,000, so the stadium might only be a third full on Thursday. Also, it is certainly more important for Vorskla to try and back up their win in Qarabag, to give themselves a glimmer of hope of causing a major shock in this group.

Vorskla are generally pretty solid at home. They tend to beat the teams they should do more often than not, but lose to those certainly of a higher standard. Of their last four defeats in their stadium, two have come versus Dynamo Kiev (once this season, and other at end of last season). They’re certainly one of the top sides in Ukraine, and Vorskla fall just below that category.

Qarabag, even domestically, aren’t in the best of form on their travels. In all competitions this season on the road, it reads played nine, three wins, three draws and three defeats. It would take a big shock for them to win in Ukraine, taking all of the factors into account.

Qarabag actually have won in Ukraine fairly recently when defeating Dnipro in the 2014/15 group stage of the UEFA Europa League. They also won in Greece to beat PAOK 1-0 in the 2016/17 group phase, but those two are their only victories on the road in European group stage competition.

Vorskla arguably did the hard part in winning the away leg of this meeting. They enter this in better form, a stronger mind-set and have greater motivation to win. A price of 38/25 (Marathon) is too good to ignore. It could be argued they should be slight odds-on favourites to win this match.

Best Bets

Lazio v Marseille – Lazio to win and Over 1.5 Goals (1/1 Coral)

Olympiakos v Dudelange – Olympiakos to win ‘to nil’ (4/6 Coral)

Vorskla v Qarabag – Vorskla to win (38/25 Marathon)

About Author

Since leaving university I've worked as a Research/Football Performance/Betting Analyst. I live and breath all things football. This has gradually helped me with my betting when looking for value and ultimately, winning selections. I've experienced both the bad, and more recently, the good supporting Lincoln City, with whom my weekends aren't the same without.

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