Europa League Tips – Thursday 16th September
We have a new slimmed down Europa League Group Stage to look forward to this season with the introduction of the Europa Conference League. 32 teams, rather than 48, will compete in the Group Stage this season, which means that all three tournaments are mirror images of each other.
This does mean that qualifying for the Europa League now is more difficult with only FA Cup winners Leicester City and West Ham earning spots in the competition from the Premier League, while Celtic and Rangers made it through qualifying into the group stages from Scotland.
There are some great games to start the tournament off with West Ham taking on Dinamo Zagreb, the team that defeated Tottenham in this tournament last season. We also have Galatasaray facing Lazio, Real Betis facing Celtic, Leicester taking on Napoli and Rangers face French side Lyon.
I do think the tightening up of teams that take place in the Europa League has made this a much more attractive tournament to compete in, qualify for and win and I also feel that more competitive games in the Group Stage will help the tournament appeal to more people too.
Europa League Betting Tips: Thursday 16th September
This looks like being a tricky game for West Ham. Zagreb were surprisingly knocked out of Champions League in the qualifying phase by Sheriff Tiraspol but this is a strong team as Spurs fans found out when losing in the Round of 16 last season.
Zagreb have started their new season well too and sit at the top of a closely packed Croatian league, but by the same token, West Ham have also started the season superbly well with the Hammers in second place on goal difference behind Tottenham and ahead of the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City.
David Moyes will know that the Hammers must improve on their most recent performances in this competition, where they were knocked out in the preliminaries and he will be targeting at least reaching the knockout phase and a win here would help them a great deal towards that aim.
With a smaller number of teams in the Europa League, reaching the knockout phase is not such a formality nowadays, but I think the Hammers will get their campaign off to a decent start here by picking up a draw.
This is a tough game to call as neither side has really set their domestic league alight this season. Somewhat oddly, Betis lost for the first time in 13 La Liga games last time out while Celtic, who have scored the most goals and have the best goal difference in the SPL by a large margin, are just sixth in the table after two losses in four games.
My one concern here though for Celtic, is that when they face a step up in quality from their domestic league, they have tended to struggle. That was evident in the Champions League qualifiers and the qualifying campaign for this tournament.
Betis are much more used to playing high quality opponents and with home advantage in Seville, I feel that they are more than equipped to get a result against Celtic here with the likes of Hector Bellerin, Nabil Fekir and Claudio Bravo in the team.
I don’t imagine there will be a deluge of goals in this game, but I do feel that Betis are good enough to pick up the win, perhaps by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.
Napoli are a very tricky team and have enjoyed some good results against English teams in the recent past, so Leicester City fans will be aware that this is probably going to be their toughest home game in the group.
That said, Brendan Rodgers men have played well this season for the most part, but they have been conceding a few more goals than you would usually expect a Leicester City team to do and that worries me against a Napoli side blessed with so much attacking talent.
I also feel the way Napoli are set up to hit teams on the counter is going to be a problem for Leicester City at home and I think that the Italians will certainly find the net in this game, I am just not sure whether it will be once or twice.
However, I am confident that with the backing of their fans, Leicester can get something from this game, so I am backing both teams to score and for the game to finish in a draw.
Last season, Rangers put in some excellent performances in Europe against some very decent teams and they are going to have to replicate that here against a Lyon side that, although they have started the season poorly by their standards in France, they are always one of the toughest teams to beat in European competition.
However, last season, Rangers showed that they can raise their game to higher levels against this calibre of opponent and as such, I think Steven Gerrard’s team can produce the goods here, especially with a packed Ibrox roaring them on, something that they didn’t have last season.
Lyon’s form this season has improved after a poor start but they are perhaps not as strong as they have been in previous seasons and I think that while they may score a goal, Rangers may do enough to claim the victory here.
As such, I am going to go for one of my Correct Score predictions in this one as I feel this game looks likely to be a 2-1 victory for the Scottish side, which offers me a very nice return for a £10 bet if the bet comes in.
*Tips are exactly that tips (predictions) and do not guarantee success.