Akhisar Belediye v Krasnodar | Thursday 20th September 2018, 17:55 | BT Sport
Akhisar Belediye lifted their first ever major trophy in domestic Turkish football last season when stunning both Galatasaray and Fenerbahce on their way to lifting the Turkish Cup.
Okan Buruk – the mastermind behind the operation – left on a high in the summer and was replaced by Safet Susic in the hot-seat. However, a wretched start to life in the Super Lig has seen the Bosnian axed after five winless fixtures left the Aegean rock-bottom (W0-D2-L3).
Akhisar will come under the watch of caretaker boss Cem Kavcak for Thursday night’s tie with Krasnodar and it’s worth opposing the Turks, and not just due to their slow start. The Akigo finished in the bottom-half last term and claimed just 11 victories across the 34-game campaign, while no side fired in as few shots.
What’s more, the hosts were beaten in four of their five encounters against the Super Lig’s top-five at their Spor Toto Akhisar Stadium base, conceding 10 goals in their four defeats, suggesting they might not be able to match their more illustrious Russian guests this midweek.
UEFA coefficients rank the Akigo a long way off Krasnodar, while the Russian Premier League is also comfortably above the Turkish equivalent according to European football’s governing body. It’s also worth pointing out that, of the 30 cup winners to enter the Europa League qualification stage, only one side progressed as far as the group-stage.
With Akhisar handed a direct route into the main competition, Thursday evening’s encounter will be their first taste of continental football.
Krasnodar are relatively experienced in the Europa League by now. The Bulls first qualified for the competition back in the 2014/15 campaign, and have since only failed to qualify once, and only once failed to reach the group stages.
Murad Musayev’s men have picked up four wins in their first seven league outings and only Spartak Moscow are averaging more attempts at goal. Last year they returned W9-D2-L1 when travelling to teams outside the top-three and so there’s plenty of reason to believe they can at least match the Turks.
Therefore, I’ll take the added insurance of the Double Chance market alongside a match featuring Over 1 Goal at 5/6 with Betfair. This selection will pay out should Krasnodar avoid defeat by any scoreline other than 0-0 and 0-1.
Marseille v Eintracht Frankfurt | Thursday 20th September 2018, 17:55 | BT Sport
Another club side that’s arrived in the Europa League group-stage automatically following domestic cup success is Eintracht Frankfurt.
Die Adler shocked German football supporters when ousting Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal finale last May, whilst also tabling a top-half finish under Niko Kovac. However, the Croatian was lured away by Bayern in the summer and the club have since moved to bring in Adi Hutter.
Hutter was the first Austrian to win a league title abroad as his success with Young Boys last term ended Basel’s eight-year monopoly in Switzerland. But the new boss has been hampered in his early exchanges following the departure of a number of key players in the off-season.
Eintracht’s most creative player, Marius Wolf, joined Dortmund and the mercurial Kevin-Prince Boateng departed, along with Lucas Hradecky and Omar Mascarell weakening the ranks. Die Adler then suffered the ignominy of a first round DFB Pokal exit to lower league opposition, heightening tensions.
The Bundesliga boys are also in the midst of an unfavourable amount of injuries. Timothy Chandler, Ante Rebic and Goncalo Paciencia have all missed the start of the season and remain sidelined, along with centre-back Carlos Salcedo.
Frankfurt rode their luck to clinch a 2-0 triumph at Freiburg on the opening weekend of the Bundesliga, although a last-ditch free-kick winner sunk the visitors at home to Bremen before a comfortable beating was handed out by Dortmund last weekend.
Eintracht have now lost all bar one of their past 19 trips to top-six teams in Germany – 11 (59%) of those defeats were by a margin of two goals or more – and the visitors could be up against it again when they head to the Stade Velodrome for an early Thursday evening kick-off.
Marseille missed out on Champions League qualification by just a single point last season as their 11 draws held Rudi Garcia’s group back. Nevertheless, Les Phoceens have kicked-off 2018/19 with realistic desires of featuring in the top-three shake-up this season and early performances have been promising.
The French giants signalled their intentions with a 4-0 shellacking of Toulouse on the opening night and last time out smashed Guingamp 4-0 with Dimitri Payet playing starring roles on both occasions. With Florian Thauvin also working his way back to full match fitness following the World Cup, L’OM pack a mean punch.
The hosts were Europa League finalists last season and have won 22 of their past 32 outings on home soil dating back to the start of last season. Marseille have scored at least twice in 23 of those tussles and should be well capable of putting the inexperienced Germans to the sword.
I’ll back the Ligue 1 side to win in a match involving Over 1.5 Goals at 20/21 (Ladbrokes). Our bet is a winner should Marseille triumph by any scoreline other than 1-0.
Genk v Malmo | Thursday 20th September 2018, 17:55 | BT Sport
Genk were Europa League quarter-finalists in 2016/17 and have a great chance to make a real impact again this season having been drawn in a pool alongside Besiktas, Malmo and Sarpsborg.
The Belgians breezed through qualification, firing in 22 goals in just six games against Fola Esch, Lech Poznan and Brondby. The Smurfs have also made a hot start (W5-D2-L0) to their domestic campaign with only Club Brugge (W7-D0-L0) above Philippe Clement’s charges at this early stage.
Ukrainian playmaker and dead-ball specialist Ruslan Malinovskiy, plus strikers Leandro Trossard and Mbwana Samatta have constant menaces going forward for Genk and no side has had as many efforts at goal, or generated a higher Expected Goals figure across the opening seven matches.
On Saturday evening, the Smurfs sealed a 1-0 success against domestic big guns Anderlecht in an entertaining encounter here at the Luminus Arena. It’s true, a draw probably would have been a fair result but Clement’s troops continue to impress and should be supported to see off Malmo.
The hosts can be backed to win a match involving Over 1.5 Goals at 5/6 (Betfair) and it’s a selection that appeals having paid out in 13 of their 16 matches dating back to May.
Malmo made an atrocious start to the defence of their title success in Sweden but have since found their range under following the June appointment of Uwe Rosler. The Sky Blues are now unbeaten in 19 and have climbed to within eight points of the summit of the Allsvenskan.
Even so, the Swedes could be out-gunned in this contest. The visitors were made to look ordinary when struggling to get past Hungarians Vidi in the Champions League qualification phase and have W2-D1-L3 when travelling to top-10 teams in their domestic championship.
Nevertheless, Malmo are unlikely to sit back and admit defeat. Their away Allsvenskan fixtures are averaging 3.18 goals per-game and with Genk failing to silence six of their past seven opponents, a high-scoring shootout could easily ensue.
AEK Larnaca v FC Zurich | Thursday 20th September 2018, 20:00 | BT Sport
Arguably one of the least appealing ties on paper from matchday one sees Cypriot club AEK Larnaca welcome Swiss side FC Zurich to the AEK Arena – Georgios Karapatakis in Group A on Thursday night.
As already mentioned, AEK Larnaca were the only domestic cup champions during Europa League qualification to book their place in the group phase, while fellow cup winners FC Zurich were handed an automatic berth in the main competition having conquered the Swiss Schweizer Pokal.
The hosts have been coached by Spanish boss Andoni Iraola since June and there’s a real Iberian flavour to their football, unsurprising considering Iraola’s heritage, and the fact that the squad is packed full of Spanish-born players.
However, it’s experienced Macedonian forward Ivan Trichkovski and French striker Florian Taulemesse that carry the offensive threat with the Green-Yellows doing their best work defensively. Larnaca came through three rounds of qualification, conceding just twice, despite testing ties against Dundalk, Strum Graz and Trencin.
The home side finished fourth last term and have for some time have relied on their outstanding home record at the Georgios Karapatakis. The Cypriots have lost just one of their past 34 outings here and won each of their three UEL qualifiers here by an aggregate 12-0. Impressive stuff.
Visitors FC Zurich are deeper into their Super League season but have picked up only two triumphs from six (W2-D2-L2), failing to score on three occasions. Include the back end of last year and the Swiss side have recorded only four wins in 12 away days, two of which came against lower league cup opposition.
The City Club have silenced just five of their past 21 opponents and with Ludovic Magnin’s men also averaging the lowest xG figures in their domestic division, and second fewest shots, I’m happy to get against them here.
AEK Larnaca double chance and Under 4 Goals (8/11 Bet365) will bank if the home side avoid defeat by a scoreline such as 0-0, 1-1, 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 or 3-0 and that should give us a good run for our money considering the two sides have a strong penchant for relatively low-scoring duels.
Akhisar Belediye v Krasnodar – Krasnodar double chance and Over 1 Goal (5/6 Betfair)
Marseille v Eintracht Frankfurt – Marseille to win and Over 1.5 Goals (20/21 Ladbrokes)
Genk v Malmo – Genk to win and Over 1.5 Goals (5/6 Betfair)
AEK Larnaca v FC Zurich – AEK Larnaca double chance and Under 4 Goals (8/11 Bet365)