The Europa League qualifying matches continue in earnest on Thursday and in an interesting quirk of fate all the British and Irish sides have been handed away ties as they continue their respective bids to reach the group stages.
Celtic may still be feeling this competition is a booby prize, having suffered a surprise 2-1 home defeat to Ferencvaros in Champions League qualifying, but they haven’t let that affect their performances on the pitch domestically.
The Bhoys have won four on the bounce in the Scottish Premiership, scoring 13 goals in the process, to climb to within a point of Rangers, knowing that if they win their game in hand they will hit the summit.
Neil Lennon was understandably frustrated with the Ferencvaros setback and he will not let his players make the same mistake again.
Riga may have won their last three games but this represents a big step up in class and Celtic can get the job done, with a clean sheet to boot, at
Winning Mentality Can Help Gers Through
Rangers face a tougher task, on paper at least, as they take on Eredivisie side Willem II, although the Glasgow giants are favourites to progress.
Steven Gerrard’s men go into this match after a somewhat disappointing 2-2 draw at Hibs, having conceded their first domestic goals of the new season but, more importantly, the initiative in the title race.
Willem II started their campaign with a 2-0 defeat at Heerenveen but have bounced back with menace, thrashing FC Progres Niederkorn 5-0 in the Europa League before bagging another four against Heracles.
Rangers may have their work cut out but Gerrard’s has been installing a winning mentality into his players and they can secure a confidence-boosting win at
Well Run Set to End
Motherwell may have taken heart from a 3-0 win over Aberdeen last weekend but they face a tall order in Europe when they go to Hapoel Beer-Sheva.
The Steelmen have a dire record in the Europa League and although they may have got this far, they only took care of Glentoran after the visitors had a man sent off, while they needed penalties to take care of Coleraine.
Hapoel may have been beaten by Maccabi Haifa in the league but had beaten the same opposition in the cup and go into this fixture on the back of a 2-1 win at Laci.
It remains to be seen whether the weekend win can be a catalyst for a surprise win, but it is difficult to see beyond the home side at
20/33, given ‘Well’s record in Europe.
Sheriff can Arrest Dundalk Progress
Dundalk’s run looks like it will come to an end on Thursday as they face FC Sheriff, favourites to go through at
20/31, and it’s difficult to argue with the prices.
Zoran Zekic’s men have a perfect ten from ten in the league and although they have been beaten in Europe already this season, that 2-1 defeat at Qarabag was in Champions League qualifying and this represents a drop down in class.
Dundalk have struggled domestically, winning only half of their ten games to fall 15 points behind Shamrock Rovers, and their foray in Europe will be ended by the Moldovan giants.
Tottenham look nailed on to progress at Shkendija, particularly after their impressive 5-2 win over Southampton at the weekend, while it seems unwise to back Aberdeen to get the better of Portuguese giants Sporting in Lisbon after their home hammering at the weekend.
Danes Can Cause a Shock
Of course, the Champions League qualifying also continues this week with Slavia Prague hosting Tuesday’s standout tie against FC Midtjylland.
Slavia have made a bright start domestically but it may be worth taking a chance on the Danish side at
19/5, given their respective records in the Champions League.
The Red and Whites have failed to win any of their last six matches in Europe’s elite competition and the Wolves have been a tough nut to crack with six clean sheets in their last eight games, and should be considered at a big price.
*All odds correct at time of writing