The Europa League kicks off on Thursday with Chelsea and Arsenal fancied for success. Tom Carnduff picks out his best bets.
Recommended Europa League bets
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Villarreal v Rangers
Group G, Estadio de la Ceramica, 1755 BST, BT Sport 3
Rangers head to La Liga outfit Villarreal as huge 11/1 outsiders with the two kicking off the Group G action.
The hosts may play in Spain's top flight, but I'm not sure they necessarily warrant such an odds-on price.
They have the joint-worst home record in the division so far having failed to win both of the encounters in front of their own fans, and only grabbed their first victory against a Leganes side who have a single point at the bottom of the table.
Rangers lost their first game of the season against Celtic, where they could have picked up something, but have since bounced back with a 4-0 hammering of Dundee.
Steven Gerrard's men played four away games in their qualification run to the Europa League group stages and were unbeaten throughout that run.
13/5 is available on a Rangers win or draw, which looks good value given the track records heading into this one.
Best bet: Rangers/Draw on double chance at 13/5
Villarreal v Rangers Opta match facts
- This will be the third competitive meeting between Rangers and Villarreal. They met previously in the last 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League with Villarreal progressing on away goals after a 2-2 draw in Glasgow and a 1-1 draw in the return match in Spain.
- Current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard won the 2000-01 UEFA Cup as a player for Liverpool, scoring in the final against Alaves in a 5-4 victory. He played 14 times for Liverpool in the Europa League under its current format, scoring five and assisting four goals in the competition.
- This will be Villarreal’s fifth successive season in the UEFA Europa League and in each of the past four campaigns, they have successfully navigated through the Group Stages.
- Villarreal have been knocked out of the UEFA Europa League at the Last 32 stage in the last two seasons (2016-17 & 2017-18)
- Villarreal have lost three successive European matches – they haven’t lost four in a row in European competition since December 2011 (six in a row).
PAOK Salonika v Chelsea
Group L, Toumba Stadium, 1755 BST, BT Sport 2
Chelsea begin their Europa League campaign away at PAOK, and the pre-tournament favourites have enough about them to get underway with victory.
This will be Chelsea's toughest game of the group, but their strong Premier League form highlights the gulf in quality between the two sides.
Maurizio Sarri's side have won all five games so far this season, scoring 14 goals in the process.
They should still field a strong outfit, despite a primary focus on England's top division, which will be too much for the Greek outfit to deal with.
An away win with over 2.5 goals can be found at a best price of 9/5. Chelsea have started in fantastic form and are more than equipped to continue that here.
PAOK Salonika v Chelsea Opta match facts
- Chelsea and PAOK Salonika will meet for the first time ever in a competitive match.
- PAOK are unbeaten in all four of their previous competitive matches with English teams (W2 D2 L0), with a win and a draw apiece against both Arsenal (in 1997-98) and Tottenham Hotspur (in 2011-12).
- In their previous six Europa League campaigns, PAOK have progressed from the group stage on four occasions (2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14, 2016-17), but were eliminated at the Last 32 stage on each of those occasions.
- Chelsea won the UEFA Europa League in their last appearance in the competition (2012-13), defeating Benfica 2-1 in the final.
- Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has a 100% win ratio in the group stages matches of the UEFA Europa League, winning all six matches whilst in charge of Napoli in 2015-16.
Arsenal v Vorskla Poltava
Group E, Emirates Stadium, 2000 BST, BT Sport 2
Unai Emery's European adventure begins with an easy home tie for his Arsenal side against the team that finished 3rd in the Ukrainian Premier League last season.
Vorskla Poltava head into the encounter as huge 33/1 outsiders and stand little chance of getting anything here. The Gunners' quality will be too much for a team that finished 26 points adrift of Shakhtar in first.
Despite the season being young, Arsenal have nine different goalscorers already. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is one of those on that list, and he is someone capable of scoring here.
The Armenian international has found game time limited in recent outings, which could see him line-up in an attacking midfield/right-wing role here.
Taking into account his position on the pitch, and the fact that Arsenal are expected to score goals, the general 13/10 available on him scoring anytime looks great value.
Arsenal v Vorskla Poltava Opta match facts
- This will be the first-ever competitive meeting between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava.
- Vorskla Poltava are appearing in only their second UEFA Europa League campaign in its current format (since 2009-10). In their first, they won just two points from six group stages matches and scored only four goals.
- Vorskla Poltava finished as the third best team in the Ukrainian Premier League in 201718. However, with 49 points from 32 games to their name, they finished 26 points behind winners Shakhtar Donetsk and 24 points behind 2nd placed Dynamo Kyiv.
- In winning the UEFA Europa League in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16, Arsenal manager Unai Emery shares the record for the most UEFA Cup/Europa League titles with Italian Giovanni Trapattoni (3). Emery is the only manager to win the Europa League/UEFA Cup three seasons in a row.
- Arsenal made it through to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals last season, before losing 1-2 on aggregate to eventual winners Atlético Madrid.
Celtic v Rosenborg
Group B, Celtic Park, 2000 BST, BT Sport 3
Celtic missed out on a spot in the Champions League after being knocked out by AEK Athens at the qualification stage.
Victory over Suduva at the final hurdle sees Brendan Rodgers' side line up in Group B, alongside three difficult team and Rosenborg won't be a straightforward encounter.
The timing of the Norwegian Eliteserien is different, meaning that they are 22 games in already. Rosenborg sit top of the standings with 15 wins from 22 games.
They're a high-scoring team, who have found the net 13 times in their last five encounters. Issam Jebali has been involved for the visitors, scoring seven and assisting a further six in 22 appearances.
The 26-year-old has been rotating between attacking midfield and striker for his side this season and has been priced up at 5/1 to strike here. Given their track record in scoring this season, they are equipped to pounce against the Scottish champions.
Best bet: Issam Jebali to score anytime at 5/1
Celtic v Rosenborg Opta match facts
- This will be the fifth competitive meeting between these two sides since the start of 2017-18. Celtic defeated Rosenborg 1-0 on aggregate in the 3rd round of UCL qualifiers last year, while this season they prevailed 3-1 on aggregate versus the Norwegians in the same competition at the 2nd round stage, before later being knocked out themselves in the next round by AEK Athens (3-2 agg.)
- Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has lost just two of his eight UEFA Europa League group stage games as a manager (W3 D3 L2) - all coming as Liverpool boss.
- Celtic have made it past the group stages of the UEFA Europa League just once in four participations – this was in 2014/15, where they were eventually knocked out by Inter Milan in the last 32.
- Rosenborg BK will compete in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League for the fifth time - in each of their previous four appearances in the competition, the Norwegian side has failed to make it past the group stage.
- Rosenborg have failed to keep a single clean sheet in their 24 UEFA Europa League games conceding 46 goals in total.
RB Leipzig v FC Salzburg
Group B, Red Bull Arena, 2000 BST, BT Sport ESPN
It's an unofficial Red Bull derby in Group B, with RB Leipzig taking on Red Bull Salzburg, who play as 'FC Salzburg' in this competition.
The home side are favourites here, and should wrap up victory in front of their own supporters.
Leipzig have won all but one of their competitive fixtures at home this season, beating Hannover 3-2 most recently, and were comfortable in victory during the three home legs in the qualifiers.
They scored ten goals in those European games, and will aim for more here as they look to top what appears to be quite an open group.
Salzburg have 18 goals during their seven wins this season, topping the Tipico Bundesliga. This game does have the potential for the net to be hit on multiple occasions, in a game that Leipzig should just edge.
RB Leipzig v FC Salzburg Opta match facts
- RB Leipzig and FC Red Bull Salzburg have never previously met in a competitive fixture.
- RB Leipzig will be competing in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League for the first time; they entered the competition at the Last 32 stage last season after finishing third in their Champions League group.
- German striker Timo Werner was directly involved in six of RB Leipzig’s nine goals in the 2017-18 Europa League, scoring four and assisting a further two.
- This will be FC Red Bull Salzburg’s eighth season in the UEFA Europa League since the competition began in its current format in 2009-10 – no side has participated in more.
- In Red Bull Salzburg’s last five Europa League tournaments, they have made it through the group stages on four occasions, failing to do so only in 2016-17.