Away Day Joy for Gers and United

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The Europa League is back on Thursday and it promises to be another positive night for the majority of the British sides involved.

Rangers captain James Tavernier

The marathon that is the Europa League enters the knockout stages on Thursday with the first leg of the last-32 ties, with five British teams taking to the field.

Three of the four Premier League clubs still involved fill the top three spots in the Europa League outright betting, with Manchester United installed as the 11/2 favourites after dropping into the competition from the Champions League. Boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the Europa League seriously last season and there’s no reason to think he won’t adopt the same approach again as they gear up to face Spanish side Real Sociedad.

Turin Turnover for the Royals

Due to Covid restrictions, Sociedad are denied a home advantage in the first leg of the tie, with Thursday’s match taking place at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium in Turin. The Royals haven’t enjoyed life on the road of late, winning just three of their last 11 away matches, while they picked up one win and two draws on their travels in the Europa League group stages.

That was part of a disappointing group stage campaign for Imanol Alguacil’s men as they just squeezed through, but they at least enter this fixture on the back of consecutive wins in the league for the first time since November, while star winger Mikel Oyarzabal looks set to be passed fit.

United will also need to be wary of Swede Alexander Isak, who has yet to score in the Europa but has netted in his last five league outings. Sociedad certainly have a few weapons but not as many as United, even though they won’t have Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba for this game.

United’s away record this season speaks for itself having yet to taste defeat on the road in the Premier League, while they beat Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital on the opening night of this year’s Champions League. They have the pace on the counter to cause any side problems and can justify favouritism at 6/5 for the win

Rangers to Shut the Door on Antwerp

Rangers are the last team left standing in Europe as far as Scotland are concerned and they look primed to go deep in this competition after impressing during the group stages. Steven Gerrard’s men finished top of their pool ahead of Benfica, with a record of four wins and two draws.

With the Scottish Premiership title all but in the bag, the Gers can have a real crack at Europe and enter this game in great form having gone 12 unbeaten, recording eight wins to nil in that period. Rangers’ steadfast defence has been the platform upon which they have built a lot of their success this year and they have already won to nil in Belgium this season having beaten Standard Liege 2-0 in the group stages.

Royal Antwerp enter this fixture sitting second in the Belgian top flight, albeit 13 points behind leaders Club Brugge due to some inconsistent form. Their decent home record is slightly tarnished by a smattering of defeats, while they have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven.

Rangers should get chances to grab a couple of away goals and their impressive record at the back makes them a solid bet at 10/11 for the win.

Foxes and Gunners to Be Put to the Test

While Tottenham are strongly fancied to get the better of Austrian side Wolfsberger on Thursday, their Premier League rivals Arsenal and Leicester might not have it so easy.

The Gunners face Portuguese giants Benfica in another match taking place at a neutral venue due to Covid, Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, and its tough to pick a winner between the two. Mikel Arteta’s men made light work of a weak group in the first round so it is tough to read too much into their European form this season, while their away form in general has been patchy, losing four of the last seven.

Benfica’s form is equally sporadic, winning three of the last nine in all competitions, but they do tend to raise their game for the big European occasion. The Eagles are also a threat going forward, netting two or more in their last seven Europa League matches, while Arsenal haven’t often failed to bag on their travels recently, making over 2.5 goals at 20/23 a standout choice.

There could also be plenty of goals in the Czech Republic when Leicester travel to take on a dangerous Slavia Prague side. Over 2.5 goals at 1/1 could again prove a smart choice in a game where it is tough to predict the outcome.

Slavia won all three of their home matches in the group stages of the Europa League, netting seven goals in the process, while Leicester arrive in the Czech capital in excellent form, their win over Liverpool improving their recent record to three victories from the last four.

The Foxes were a little up and down away from home in the Europa League group stages though, winning just one out of three. They still managed to net five times in those games and up against European entertainers Slavia, who saw five of their six matches go over 2.5 goals in the Europa stages, this promises to be a good spectacle.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.

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