Europa League Predictions Matchday 1
While the UEFA Champions League may steal all the European football headlines throughout the season, the Europa League is where you'll find the best representation of European teams, each vying to take home the historical cup and gain direct entry to the Champions League in the process.
Matchday 1 kicks off with a number of exciting fixtures across the twelve groups as all 48 teams seek to get their campaigns off to the best possible start. Below we showcase all of the fixtures, followed by our in depth analysis of the biggest games in the first round.
Group A - Villareal (Spain) vs Astana (Kazakhstan)
Only in the Europa League will you see a team from Kazakhstan travel all the way to face one of the best teams from La Liga. That's exactly what you'll see on Matchday 1 as the champions of the west-Asian country face the fifth-best team in Spain, and there is a reasonable amount of history between the clubs - they met in the Play-off round of the competition in the 2014-15 season, won comfortably by the Spanish side. While their 7-0 aggregate defeat was not ideal, Astana will travel to Spain with much more European experience, and a few big name scalps.
As winners of the Kazakhstan first division, they entered the Champions League playoff rounds and managed to knock out Polish giants Legia Warsaw, before falling at the final hurdle to Scottish champions Celtic. They have made plenty of progress in the last decade. Mind you, as well as the Kazakhstanis have done recently, they should be no match for Villareal. Although the Spanish team have started poorly in La Liga this season, losing their opening match to promoted side Levante, they should record a comfortable victory at home.
Their odds of -450 aren't massive, but you can count on the Spanish side to get the job done - why not parlay your bet into another favourite to increase your outlay?
Group D - Austria Wien (Vienna) vs A.C. Milan (Italy)
This is perhaps one of the best games to bet on in Matchday 1. Wien, who finished second in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, will be one of the first teams to try and stop A.C. Milan, one of Italy's best teams on paper given their highly publicised off-season transfers.
While Milan are huge favourites, their odds of -223 are actually extremely good value given that they should easily defeat the Austrian outfit. The game also has huge ramifications in a group that is perhaps one of the toughest in the competition this season.
AEK Athens are the other standout team in the group, and while we predict that A.C. Milan will comfortably top the group (as long as their focus is not solely on Serie A), AEK and Wien are two very evenly matched teams. It will be great to see how this group unfolds over the coming months.
Group E - Atalanta (Italy) vs Everton (England)
Italy's fourth-best team in 2016-17 will face off against the blue half of Merseyside on Thursday night in a game that will set up a strong group E. Everton have spent wisely in the summer transfer window, and although they have lost ace striker Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, they received the experience of Wayne Rooney in return plus secured the services of Swansea star Gylfi Sigurdsson, Burnley defender Michael Keane and young Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Atalanta surprised many in their fourth placed finish in 2016-17, and are making their first European appearance since the 1990-91 season. They go into the home fixture as slight favourites, priced at +137, while Everton are slight outsiders at +190.
Both teams have had two losses and a win during the opening rounds of their respective seasons, so it is a tough game to pick, however we are going to go with the away side here.
Group H - Arsenal (England) vs F.C. Koln (Germany)
For the first time since 1997, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal are not in the Champions League, and after a mediocre start to the English Premier League season that featured a 4-0 away drubbing at the hands of Liverpool, one feels that winning the Europa League may be the Gunners' best chance of making it back into Europe's elite club competition.
Their first match is against Germany's F.C. Koln, a team that finished fifth in last year's Bundesliga season and have lost their opening three matches in the league in 2017-18, currently sitting dead last on the ladder. It looks like a mismatch on paper, and the odds are heavily in the favour of the home side who should win comfortably at the Emirates as long as Alexis Sanchez is in a good mood. Go for Arsenal at -350.
Group F - FC Copenhagen (Denmark) vs L. Moscow (Russia)
Copenhagen missed out on the group stages of the UCL in an upset loss to Azerbaijani side FK Qarabag on away goals, and will be looking to make amends when they host Lokomotiv, winners of last season's Russian Cup. The Danish outfit will be looking to better last season's Europa League campaign in which they lost in the round of sixteen; this was their best ever result to date.
Lokomotiv will be no pushover though, and this is a match that will be critical in determining final group positions. The Russians have started their domestic campaign extremely well, taking twenty points from their opening nine fixtures and losing just once, and will travel to the Danish capital with plenty of confidence. They are paying +200 for an upset victory, while the home side are listed at +145. While you can get +210 for the draw, we are going to go with the away side to heighten Copenhagen's miserable European season.
Group J - Hertha Berlin (Germany) vs Bilbao (Spain)
Hertha finished sixth in the Bundesliga last season and have made an average start to their campaign in 2017-18, currently mid-table with one win, one draw and a loss to heavyweights Borussia Dortmund. They host an Athletic side that have seven points from a possible nine in this year's La Liga, albeit against teams that they would be expected to defeat.
This will be the first time the two sides meet and the result will go a long way in determining the eventual group winner, given that these sides are both favoured to advance. Australia's Mathew Leckie will be the key for the Germans, having scored all three of his team's goals so far in 2017-18, while Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga will be tough to beat in goal, coming off three consecutive clean sheets in La Liga.
The odds are very tight. Home side Hertha are priced at +145, making them slight favourites over the Spaniards who are +175. The best value pick here is the draw at +240, as neither team will want to lose ground on their biggest group rival and the game will likely finish in a stalemate.
Group K - Zulte-Waragem (Belgium) vs Nice (France)
The final match in our preview sees 2016-17 Belgian Cup winners Waragem host French side Nice, who finished thrid in the French division last season and fell to Napoli 4-0 on aggregate in their attempt to reach the Champions League.
This match is extremely tight according to the leading sportsbooks, with Nice the slight favourite at +125 despite playing away from home. The Belgians come into this fixture in mixed form, having picked up ten points from their opening six fixtures, while Nice have won two and lost three in a below average start to their season. Nice's last match was a 4-0 victory over perennial contenders Monaco, so they will take the short trip to Belgium with confidence, however we are going to pick the home side in an upset victory here. Jump on at +210.
Category : Soccer News
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