Europa League Odds, Picks, Predictions: Projections for Opening Matches (Sept. 15-16)

Europa League Odds, Picks, Predictions: Projections for Opening Matches (Sept. 15-16) article feature image
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Peter Byrne/Pool/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: West Ham United standout Tomáš Souček.

The Europa League returns Thursday, which creates a nice way to fill the cracks in your betting week.

Now, things have changed as far as the format of the Europa League from years past. Let’s a take look at the tournament setup below.


Via uefa.com:

The introduction of the UEFA Europa Conference League means several significant alterations for the UEFA Europa League.

The group stage will be reduced from 48 to 32 teams – eight groups of four. The eight group winners progress automatically to the round of 16.

There will be additional knockout round play-offs prior to the round of 16; these will be between the eight UEFA Europa League group runners-up and the eight third-ranked teams of the UEFA Champions League groups.


However, the prize stays the same: the competition’s winner earns a spot in next year’s Champions League.

If you remember back to last season, Villarreal took home the title on penalty kicks over Manchester United to earn a spot in this season’s prestigious showcase. The Yellow Submarine finished in seventh place in La Liga last season, which would have put them in the Europa Conference League. Instead, they’re in the biggest competition in club soccer.

Throwback to the Europa League final when Villarreal defeated Manchester United 11-10 on penalties and it was decided by the goalkeepers ⏮ (🎥 @EuropaLeague) pic.twitter.com/6aBkia5EVQ

— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 11, 2021

In case you missed the draw, here are the groups:

The format features eight sets of four teams, which means there are 16 matches every Thursday across Europe. So, if you like action, the Europa League might be for you.

If you’d like to read more about how I determine my projected lines and totals using an expected goals model, you can read about it here.

For the Europa League, my projections factor in UEFA Coefficients for every country represented in the competition. The projections also factor in the talent of each squad based on their total transfer value on Transfer Market.

That way, the projections can account for the strength of the domestic league each club plays in and the talent level of each club.

Europa League Projections

Best Bets

Dinamo Zagreb vs. West Ham

Dinamo Zagreb Odds +215
West Ham Odds +120
Draw +265
Over/Under 2.5 (-120 / -105)
Day | Time Thursday | 12:45 p.m. ET
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West Ham United makes the long trip to take on Croatian champion Dinamo Zagreb to open up their Europa League campaign.

If you remember back to the knockout round of last season’s competition, Dinamo Zagreb pulled off a historic upset beating Tottenham Hotspur, 3-0, in the second leg to win 3-2 on aggregate.

Dinamo Zagreb overcame a 2-0 1st leg deficit in extra-time to knockout Tottenham. They kept their #UEL hopes are alive and it meant everything. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/tHIFPGgOJz

— UCL on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) April 8, 2021

However, things are a little bit different this time around for Zagreb as it’s going against a Premier League side and has gone through a lot of transition this offseason.

They sold two of their best young players this past transfer window — Lovro Majer to Rennes and Josko Gvardiol to RB Leipzig — which were big blows becasue Majer was their best attacking midfielder a season ago. He scored 11 goals and dished out 14 assists across all competitions, plus Gvardiol was their best club’s defender.

Dinamo Zagreb completely dominated the Croatian top flight a season ago, winning the league with 85 points in 36 matches. They averaged 1.98 xG per match, while only allowing 1.19 xG per contest. Zagreb were also incredibly dominant during the last season’s Europa League group stage, winning Group K and going unbeaten with a +3.3 expected goal differential.

The Hammers offense, which averaged 1.59 xG per match during the 2020-21 campaign, hasn’t missed a beat this season. They have scored 10 goals in their first four matches in the English top flight.

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David Moyes’ 4-2-3-1 formation has completely revitalized the Hammers, as they’ve been incredibly effective out of it, putting up a +9.48 xGDiff when playing out of it last season, while also averaging 1.72 xG per 90 minutes.

However, West Ham’s defense was only average last season and that has carried into their first four matches. Dating back to last season, the Hammers have allowed 1.32 xG per game, which is middle of the road in the Premier League. They’ve also allowed the fifth-most touches in their final third, as well as the third-most carries into their 18-yard area, per fbref.com.

I think this is going to be a high-scoring affair for teams whose matches average more than 2.90 xG in their respective domestic leagues.

Since I have 3.18 goals projected for this game, I think there’s some value on the total over 2.5 goals at -115 via DraftKings and would play it up to -120 odds.

Pick: Total Over 2.5 Goals (-115)

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Monaco vs. Sturm Graz

Monaco Odds -245
Sturm Graz Odds +650
Draw +400
Over/Under 2.5 (-135 / +110)
Day | Time Thursday | 3 p.m. ET
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After losing in Champions League qualifying to Shakhtar Donetsk, Monaco’s road back to the Champions League is most likely going to have to come through this avenue after a horrible start to their Ligue 1 season.

However, Monaco has had some bad luck to open its campaign, winning just one match, but have a +1.94 xGDiff through their first five matches. Last season, Monaco was one of the best in France, posting a +36.4 xGDiff, which was the third-best mark in the league. They were also one of the best home teamslast season, averaging 2.23 xG per game, while only allowing 0.82 xG.

They should have a significant advantage over Austrian side Sturm Graz, who are back in the Europa league after a 10-year hiatus. Sturm Graz finished in fourth place in the Austrian Bundesliga, but were really a very average side, as they only had a +2.42 xGDiff last season. They also really struggled on the road, picking up just 22 points in 16 matches, with a -2.4 xGDiff.

The gap between Ligue 1 and the Austrian Bundesliga from a UEFA Coefficients isn’t much, with France ranked as the sixth-most difficult league and Austria ranked as the ninth-most difficult European league. However, according to TransferMarkt, Monaco’s squad value is $386 million, while Sturm Graz’s is only $32.45 million.

Since I have Monaco’s spread projected at -1.75, I love the French side to win this in a route over an average Austrian outfit. So, I’m going to back Monaco’s spread of -1 at -130 odds or better on DraftKings as my top pick.

Pick: Monaco -1 (-130)

PSV vs. Real Sociedad 

PSV Odds +140
Real Sociedad Odds +180
Draw +275
Over/Under 2.5 (-135 / +110)
Day | Time Thursday | 3 p.m. ET
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This is one of those lines that’s very puzzling to me. For those who don’t know, PSV Eindhoven is one of the three best teams in the Netherlands, but they were miles behind Ajax last year. Last season, PSV finished in second place, but was a whopping 16 points behind the champion.

They were a tad overrated last season, too, because their actual goal differential was +39, but their xGDiff was more than 10 goals lower at +27.2. A lot of that negative regression is going to come on offense as well, because PSV scored 74 goals, but only created 63.94 xG overall.

Things are also going to get a lot more difficult now that they just sold two of their best players. Star striker Donyell Malen, who finished with 27 goals in 45 appearances last season, is now at Borussia Dortmund and starting right wing back Denzel Dumfries has moved to Serie A power Inter Milan. They haven’t brought in any capable replacements, so PSV is destined for negative regression.

Real Sociedad was one of the more underrated teams in La Liga last season. They finished in fifth place and was well behind fourth-place Sevilla for a Champions League spot. However, based on xP, they should have finished ahead of Sevilla because its +24.35 xGDiff was better than Sevilla’s numbers.

The club has a lot of young exciting players like Alexander Isak, who scored 16 goals last season. Also returning is Mikel Oyarzabel, who had 11 goals and eight assists in La Liga, plus was a key part of Spain’s roster during the European Championships.

Real Sociedad hasn’t done anything significant in the transfer market, so it will bring back its exact same starting XI. They got blown out by Barcelona on opening weekend, but since then they’ve ripped off three consecutive wins and have out-created their opponents by a 5.13-2.01 xG margin.

Also, based on UEFA Coefficients, the difference between playing La Liga versus the Eredivisie is substantial considering Spain features Europe’s second-most difficult league, while the Netherlands is the seventh-most competitive league in the world.

Additionally, Real Sociedad was amazing during the Europa League group stage last season, putting up a +9.6 xGDiff in six matches in a quartet with Napoli and fellow Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.

I have Real Sociedad projected as a pretty sizable road favorite, so I love their Draw No Bet price of +110 at DraftKings and would play it up to -160 odds.

Pick: Real Sociedad ML (+110)

Broendby vs. Sparta Prague

Broendby Odds +170
Sparta Prague Odds +160
Draw +255
Over/Under 2.5 (-110 / -115)
Day | Time Thursday | 3 p.m. ET
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I’m not so sure this match should be a Pick’em, due to the fact Danish side Broendby is very overrated.

They lost in the final round of Champions League qualifying to Salzburg, but were throughly dominated over the two legs. They lost the xG battle by an overwhelming 5.08-1.10 difference. Honestly, that’s the story of this club, because their underlying metrics are maybe the worst in the tournament.

Last season, Broendby won the regular season in Denmark by two points over Midtyjlland, but were vastly overrated because they ended the season with a -7.7 xGDiff in the category.

On top of that, they’ve only won one of their first seven games in the Danish Super Liga and sold their best attacking midfielder — Jesper Lindström — during the transfer window. He recorded 10 goals and 11 assists last season. So, it’s safe to say that massive negative regression is coming in a big way.

Sparta Prague was in the Europa League last season and missed out on the Round of 32 because they were put in the “group of death” with AC Milan, Lille and Celtic.

However, Sparta Prague isn’t a team to be taken lightly in a competition like this because they’ve been in this competition seven times in the last 10 years. They are also off to a flying start in their domestic campaign, going 5-1-1 in their first seven matches, while averaging 2.06 xG per outing.

Sparta Prague also has a significant talent advantage over Bronedby. According to TransferMarkt, Sparta Prague’s squad value is $57.5 million, while Bornedby’s is only $24.6 million.

Since I have Sparta Prague projected as a +121 road favorite, I think there’s some value in their Draw No Bet line of -110 via DraftKings and would play it up to -120 odds as my top selection.

Pick: Sparta Prague — Draw No Bet (-110)

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