European Soccer Forecast: Projected Betting Odds, Totals For Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 (Feb. 18)
Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images. Pictured: Red Star Belgrade standout Mirko Ivanić.
The Europa League returns Thursday, with clubs squaring off in the Round of 32 of the competition. For those who aren’t familiar with the event, the showcase is the second tier of European soccer tournaments.
The eight clubs that finish in third place in their respective Champions League groups drop down to the 32-team playoff, along with the top two finishers in each Europa League group.
So, Manchester United, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Krasnodar, Dynamo Kiev, Salzburg, Olympiacos and Club Brugge have made their respective ways to the Europa League knockout stage.
What is everyone playing for? It’s pretty simple: the title winner earns a spot in Champions League next season.
For clubs like Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Napoli, Hoffenheim and Granada, it gives them another chance to qualify for UCL even though they are well outside the top four in their respective domestic leagues.
These are the matchups on deck:
The Europa League returns next week!
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) February 11, 2021
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. The projections also take into consideration the talent of each squad based on their total transfer value on TransferMarkt.
That way, the projections can account for the strength of the domestic league each club plays in and the talent level of each team.
Round of 32 Projected Odds & Totals
- Ajax: Sebastian Haller (ST), Andre Onana (GK), and Ryan Gravenberch (CM) are out against Lille.
- Arsenal: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) and Thomas Partey (CDM) are questionable to face Benfica.
- Bayer Leverkusen: Lars Bender (RB) is questionable to play against Young Boys.
- Braga: David Carmo (CB) is out against Roma.
- Club Brugge: Noa Lang (RW), Hans Vanaken (CM), Matej Mitrovic (CB), and Stefano Denswil (LB) are questionable to play against Dynamo Kiev.
- Dymano Kiev: Vitaliy Buyalskiy (CM) is questionable to play against Club Brugge.
- Granada: Roberto Soldado (ST) and Luis Milla (CAM) are out against Napoli.
- Krasnodar: Cristian Ramirez (LB) is out against Dinamo Zagreb. Ari (ST) is questionable.
- Hoffenheim: Andrej Kramaric (ST) is out against Molde. Ryan Sessegnon (LB) is questionable.
- Leicester City: Ayoze Perez (RM) and Denis Praet (CAM) are out against Slavia Prague. Timothy Castagne (RB) is questionable.
- Lille: Benjamin Andre (CM) and Burak Yilmaz (ST) are out against Ajax.
- Manchester United: Paul Pogba (CM) is out against Real Sociedad.
- Olympiacos: Ruben Semedo (CB) is out against PSV. Bruma (RW) and Matthieu Valbuena (LW) are questionable.
- PSV: Mario Gotze (CAM) is questionable to play against Olympiacos.
- Roma: Marash Kumbulla (CB) and Chris Smalling (CB) are out against Braga.
- Salzburg: Maximilian Wober (CB) is out against Villarreal.
- Slavia Prague: David Hovorka (CB) is questionable to play against Leicester City.
- Napoli: Hirving Lozano (RW), Dries Mertens (CAM), Elseid Hysaj (LB), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (RB), Faouzi Ghoulam (LB), Kalidou Koulibaly (CB), Konstantinos Manolas (CB), and David Ospina (GK) are out against Granada.
- Spurs: Serge Aurier (RB), Sergio Reguilon (RB) and Giovani Lo Celso (CM) are doubtful to face Wolfsberger.
- Villarreal: Francis Coquelin (CM), Mario Gaspar (RB), and Victor Iborra (CM) are out against Salzburg.
- Wolfsberger: Mario Leitgeb (CDM) is out against Spurs.
Clubs who have been out of action
Some domestic leagues don’t take place during the winter months, so there are clubs participating in the Round of 16 that haven’t played in a long time.
Here are some of teams hindered by the schedule, plus the last time they were in action/how many games they’ve played since group-play concluded.
- Molde: Norway’s Eliteserien league runs from April to December, as the winters are too harsh to play soccer. The last time Molde had a competitive match was December 19 and its had only three competitive games since group play ceased.
- Shakhtar Donetsk: The Ukrainian Premier League usually takes a break from the beginning of December until the beginning of February. The league resumed this past weekend and Shakhtar played matches on February 13 and February 14. The club has only played two competitive matches since UCL group play ended.
- Dynamo Kiev: The Ukrainian champion is in a similar spot to that of Shakhtar, as it played its first competitive match this past weekend in more than a month. They have only played two competitive games since UCL group play ended.
- FC Krasnodar: The Russian Premier League always takes a break from the middle of December to the end of February, avoiding the harshest part of the winter. Krasnodar was last in action on December 17 and has only played two competitive matches since UCL group play ended.
Change of Venue
Due to COVID-19 restrictions in certain countries, some Round of 32 matches had to be moved to a neutral site:
- Real Sociedad vs. Manchester United — Turin (Italy)
- Benfica vs. Arsenal — Rome
- Wolfsberger vs. Spurs: — Budapest
- Molde vs. Hoffenheim: — Villarreal (Spain)
Betting Analysis & Picks
Red Star Belgrade vs. AC Milan (12:55 p.m. ET)
The Serbian Super League champions have been on absolute tear this season. They’ve won 19 of their 21 matches, conceding just one goal since Nov. 9 across all competitions.
Red Star is also putting up some ridiculous expected-goal numbers, averaging 2.29 xGF per match and yielding just 0.95 xG per contest. Its only blemish on the season is a 2-0 loss at German club Hoffenheim. Since that defeat, Red Star is unbeaten in group play and have won nine league tilts in a row.
So, this will not be an easy trip for AC Milan, who are struggling at the moment.
The Rossoneri lost to newly promoted Spezia last time out and gave Inter Milan this weekend in the latest Milan derby, so this defines a sandwich spot.
I’d imagine the Italian outfit would prioritize the derby more since it trails Inter Milan by only a point for the league’s top spot. So, we could see manager Stefano Pioli rest some key players.
AC Milan also has been really reliant on scoring from the penalties and set pieces, as only 26.01 of their 46.86 xG have come from open play this season.
Since I have this match projected around Pick’em, I like the Serbian champion to get a home result.
Pick: Red Star Belgrade +0.5 (-105)
Salzburg vs. Villarreal (3 p.m. ET)
The Austrian champion didn’t make much noise in Group A besides a win at Lokomotiv Moscow. It’s been on a good run in the Austrian Bundesliga, winning five consecutive matches.
However, there is one down fall coming into this game that’s working against it. Star striker Dominik Szoboszlai was sold during the January transfer window to Bundesliga power and UCL contender RB Leipzig. In his 18 appearances this season, Szoboszlai scored six goals and added eight assists for the club.
Salzburg also struggled defending in its four UCL matches against Atlético Madrid and Bayern Munich, allowing 1.90 xG per match. In contrast, Villarreal has destroyed every opponent during Europa League group play, outscoring its opponents by a 14-5 margin in only five matches.
Villarreal has been on a bad La Liga run as of late, going winless in its last five games. However, those results are a bit misleading, as it has a +1.61 xGD in those contests.
Also based on UEFA Coefficients, Austria is the 10th-most difficult league to play in, while Spain ranks second, so I like Villarreal to get at least at result.
Pick: Villarreal — Draw No Bet (+112)
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (3 p.m. ET)
Maccabi Tel Aviv has been in fantastic form in the Israel First Division, winning nine of its last 10 affairs. More importantly, it has actually been playing games over the last two months unlike its foe. Shakhtar Donetsk played its first competitive matches in close to two months this past weekend.
The Israeli side also had an impressive showing during Europa group play, with its lone defeat coming at Villarreal. Outside of that, it conceded just three goals in their other five games due to a consistently, stingy defense.
Maccabi is allowing only 0.93 xG per match in league play, conceded a paltry three goals in their last 11 fixtures.
With Shakhtar back after that long layoff, I like the more in-form side that has been playing consistently for the past two months to get a result.
Pick: Maccabi Tel Aviv +0.5 (+102)
Lille vs. Ajax (3 p.m. ET)
The French leader squares off with the top Dutch side in what is shaping up to be the most exciting Round of 32 match.
Lille is one of the most dominant defensive teams across Europe, allowing only 0.62 xG per match. That is the best mark of any club in the five major European leagues. That number gets even better when the Ligue 1 power play on home soil, as it only allowed the opposition to create 6.99 xG in 13 matches. So, if there is a team that can shut down Ajax’s high-flying attack, it’s Lille.
Ajax couldn’t make it out of its group with Liverpool and Atalanta, but has been on a good run in the Eredivisie. The Sons of the Gods have won six consecutive matches, but made one extremely poor mistake prior to this match.
During the January transfer window, Ajax signed West Ham striker Sebastian Haller for a club-record fee, but forgot to include him in its Europa roster when it submitted the paperwork.
When you accidentally leave your record signing out of your Europa League squad… 😳
That's what happened to Ajax's Sebastian Haller.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 4, 2021
To make matters worse, star goalkeeper Andre Onana was suspended 12 months by UEFA the very next day for failing a drug test. So, it’s safe to say it has been a tough couple of weeks for the Dutch giant.
In my opinion, Lille should be a bigger favorite given how good its defense has been. So, I am going to back the French standout to get a result in the first leg.
Pick: Lille — Draw No Bet (-112)