Mark O’Haire’s Europa League Tips – Thursday
The whispers have turned to murmurs. The murmurs have moved from mutterings to general chit-chat, steadily transforming into cautious optimism amongst Tottenham supporters and the wider football family. Are Spurs really Premier League title challengers?
FK Karabakh v Tottenham, Thursday 26 November 2015 18.00, BT Sport Europe
The Lilywhites are unbeaten in 12 league outings since their opening day loss to Manchester United and swatted aside London rivals West Ham in emphatic fashion on Sunday. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have since moved from top-four candidates to potential champion material, depending on who you listen to.
Personally, I’m keeping my feet firmly on the ground. It’s November and whilst the positive progress made by Tottenham under the Argentine deserves plenty of plaudits, they’re still four points off the pace and we’re five weeks away from 2016. Let’s review the situation then.
With one eye on Sunday’s derby against Chelsea, the mammoth 11-hour round trip to Azerbaijan won’t be top of the priority list at White Hart Lane.
Spurs do sit top of Group J in the Europa League and can afford to rest players, slip up and still make it through to the knockout phase of the competition for the fourth successive season.
The Lilywhites won the reverse game 3-1 but it wasn’t quite so straightforward as the Londoners fell behind to an early goal. And I firmly believe Spurs will find the going tough in Baku on Thursday night with the Horsemen still holding out hope of reaching the last 32 themselves.
Tottenham’s Premier League record is excellent but on their travels they’ve been a little below-par, especially in Europe of late. Spurs have W2-D4-L2 in their previous eight away days and W0-D1-L3 in their most recent four European journeys. What’s more, the guests have kept just a solitary clean sheet in 11 continental ties.
Karabakh are no pushovers at home and have held Monaco and beaten Anderlecht at their Tofig Bahramov Stadium base already in the group-stage whilst trouncing Young Boys in their qualifying fixture. The Azerbaijanis haven’t lost in front of their home supporters in 18 (W12-D6-L0) and are sure to offer firm resistance.
Sure, the Horsemen have never scored more than once in a Europa League match but the combination of Rasad Sadiqov’s creativity and Richard Almeida’s finishing has provided opposition teams with plenty of menace already in this campaign and it should be noted Gurban Gurbanov’s men haven’t fired a blank since early August.
The two teams hold contrasting goals-based records – 12/19 Karabakh home encounters have delivered Under 2.5 Goals with only 6/19 featuring winning Both Teams To Score bets. On the other hand, Spurs have seen BTTS bank in all four of their Group J games and in 10 of their last 11 league and cup outings.
So instead I’m proposing a straight play on Karabakh in the Double Chance market at 20/23. The Azerbaijan champions look underrated and can take at least a point when considering all the circumstances surrounding Spurs this midweek.
Karabakh double chance @ 20/23
Liverpool v Bordeaux, Thursday 26 November 2015 20.05, BT Sport Europe
The feel good factor is back at Anfield and after Liverpool’s 4-1 slaughtering of Manchester City at the Etihad on Sunday, many Reds fans are probably dreaming of what’s potentially possible under the tutelage of charismatic Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool sit second in Group B of the Europa League and a victory over Bordeaux would secure their place in the knockout stages. Already Klopp has shown a willingness to respect the competition far more than his predecessor Brendan Rodgers and so, despite recording just three home victories all season, the Reds deserve maximum respect on Thursday.
The hosts saw playmaker Philippe Coutinho join a lengthy injury list that includes Jordan Henderson, Jon Flanagan, Danny Ings, Joe Gomez, Jordan Rossiter and Mamadou Sakho but Klopp should again field a strong enough XI to take care of business. Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke and Jordon Ibe could all be in line to start in attack.
The Reds have suffered just three defeats in 2015/16 and really should have won the reverse fixture in France.
Their W1-D3-L0 Europa League return this term is far from daunting but the progress made in eight games under Klopp’s watch certainly is and it’s also worth pointing out, no side has fired in more attempts in this season’s competition than Liverpool’s 87 (that’s an average of nearly 22 per-game).
Liverpool hold a W10-D1-L2 record when hosting Ligue 1 clubs and they’re welcoming a Bordeaux side that’s lost all five of their previous trips to England ‘to nil’. Overall, Les Girondins hold a very poor W1-D3-L7 return against Premier League sides and head into this encounter with only three victories from 14 in all competitions.
The powder-puff guests have notched just twice in their four group-games (W0-D3-L1) and are without their chief creator Wahbi Khazzri through suspension. Gregory Sertic is also sidelined as Bordeaux hunt a first road victory since early August with Willy Sagnol’s men needing to avoid defeat to harbour any hopes of progressing.
I expect a home win but it might not come in quite as champagne a style as Sunday. The two teams have played eight matches between them so far in the Europa League and all but one of those have produced Under 2.5 Goals. With that in mind, I’ll combine a Liverpool win with Under 2.5 Goals and take the attractive 23/10 on offer.
Liverpool to win and Under 2.5 Goals @ 23/10
Celtic v Ajax, Thursday 26 November 2015 20.05, BT Sport 2
This fixture could define Ronny Deila’s Celtic career. Winning the Scottish Premier League shouldn’t scratch the surface in his list of achievements but making baby steps of progress on the continental scene should certainly carry a weight of more than just expectation.
But the Bhoys have failed to make the Champions League group-stage in the past two campaigns and are now looking like exiting the Europa League at the first time of asking. Back-to-back losses to Delia’s Norwegian counterparts Molde have left the Scottish champions requiring successive victories against Ajax and Fenerbahce to keep the dream alive.
Celtic did lead twice in the previous meeting in Amsterdam but were pegged back on both occasions to draw 2-2. It means the hosts have now W0-D4-L5 of their past nine Europa League contests, scoring in all bar one but failing to record a clean sheet.
The Bhoys have leaked at least twice in seven of their past eight outings in this tournament.
The Scots’ defensive woes have let them down greatly and Deila’s men are missing the suspended Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen on Thursday night whilst neither Scott Brown nor Kris Commons look likely to be fit in time. Commons has had a hand in five of Celtic’s six Europa League goals this term and could be a big miss.
Still, Celtic supporters shouldn’t be too downbeat. Ajax are top of the Dutch Eredivisie but have only won once in four (W1-D1-L2) visits to Parkhead and are winless in this season’s competition (W0-D3-L1), failing to notch in their past two European fixtures.
Anwar El Ghazi, Riechedly Bazoer and Daley Sinkgraven all missed their 5-1 victory over Cambuur at the weekend through injury and remain doubts for Frank de Boer’s side. On paper, the Amsterdammers do look in better shape and should at least grab a goal on Thursday night.
With that in mind, I can’t really ignore 11/10 quotes on Ajax in the Draw No Bet market. It offers better value than a goals-based bet with the duo offering up vastly different records – Celtic have delivered Over 2.5 Goals in all four group-games as well as seven of their previous eight Europa League matches. But Ajax have followed suit just once in their last eight Europa encounters – the previous meeting in Holland.
A Fenerbahce win over Molde would spell elimination for the loser of this fixture and with a draw not really helping either, we should be treated to an open and attacking contest but the odds reflect that and so a sole play on the visitors looks the best solution in a trappy affair.
Ajax draw no bet @ 11/10
*Prices correct at time of publication