The Europa League fixtures of last week delivered mixed results for the UK sides involved in the competition. Wolves quietly dispatched Armenian side Pyunik 4-0 while the rest of the Premier League compared their transfer deadline day hauls, while Rangers also notched four goals in Denmark to bring a 4-2 lead back to Glasgow – giving them what would seem like a simple task against Midtjylland this evening. On the flip side, The New Saints were panelled 5-0 by Ludogorets Razgrad, and will need to massively better their heroics against Kilmarnock in the previous round. Abderdeen, meanwhile, need to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Rijeka; difficult, but not impossible, to see happening.
It might be hard to find tempting betting choices on some of these matches. Wolves, in particular, seem nailed on to sail through to the next round and have a league game on Monday to focus on, so may not lay down the thumping they realistically could. Rangers, for their part, could repeat the dose against their Danish opposition at home – but could equally deliver the same kind of limp performance their city rivals Celtic did against Cluj on Thursday. That’s the beauty – and the downside – of two-leg European ties. Let’s see what bets are available on the evening’s games.
Scottish punt offers an intriguing chance
Over the course of last season, the Rangers side under Steven Gerrard consistently showed their best form in European competition, dropping points domestically against theoretically weaker sides on a regular basis but winning tough ties in Europe. They even finished above Spartak Moscow in a competitive Europa League group. This season, despite a lukewarm performance against Luxembourg’s Progres Niederkorn, they look well-prepared for European competition again.
Their compatriots Abderdeen were less fortunate in continental action – being drawn against Premier League opposition in the form of Burnley. Yet the Dons forced their more moneyed opponents into an extra-time period at Turf Moor, and on the face of it Rijeka are more beatable opposition. Pittodrie is a tough place to go to and win, so even if they don’t get the three goals they need, the Dons are a good shout to at least regain some honour. Package these two together with Portuguese side Braga – 4-2 winners over Brondby in the first leg – and Ladbrokes are giving 11/2 on the three sides to win their matches this evening; a punt worth considering.
Wolves on the hunt for goals?
Nuno Espirito Santo’s time at the helm with Wolves has been a series of impressive upward steps. Promotion in his first season with the club was followed by a climb to seventh place in the Premier League; one which never looked beyond his side from the first game they played back in the top flight. That won them a spot in the Europa League, and they’ve taken that in their stride too – never looking as shaky as the previous season’s Premier League overachievers Burnley. Perhaps due to the continental, possession-based approach Nuno has adopted, they’ve breezed through their early games against Crusaders, and last week’s tie in Armenia.
With a 4-0 win in the first leg behind them, and a Premier League match against Manchester United ahead, it’s reasonable to imagine that Wolves could view tonight’s outing as more of a distraction than anything else. They don’t need to win this game or put down much of a marker; they don’t even need to risk the bulk of their first team to avoid the five-goal home thumping that would be required to eliminate them. Betfair are offering odds of 13/8 on there being fewer than 3.5 goals in this game, and it’s worth thinking about in the knowledge that even at their sharpest, Wolves aren’t really a hell-for-leather side.
A full slate of UK sides in the next round?
Northern Irish champions Linfield and Champions League evictees Celtic will enter the Europa League in the next round, which could mean there are up to six UK sides battling to join Manchester United and Arsenal in the group stages. Of course, realistically that number is five, because – let’s face it – there is no real chance of The New Saints turning around that heavy deficit from the first leg. We can all but assume Wolves will be there; Rangers are unlikely to take a three-goal pasting on home turf; so that leaves Aberdeen, who have a significant task in front of them to get through against their Croatian opposition.
Nonetheless, Derek McInnes’ side is the closest thing outside of the Old Firm that Scotland has to a European-class side. Main striker Sam Cosgrove has proven to be a handful and – although the three-goal win they need is a huge ask – they’re not out of the running yet. With Wolves likely to progress smoothly and Rangers in form, there’s a lot to be said for William Hill’s offer of 8/1 on the English and Scottish representatives all to be leading at half-time this evening. Although Aberdeen risk being caught on the counter as they look for late goals, you’d fancy them to make a strong start.