The Europa League is back in action Thursday, with 15 of the 16 second legs in the Round of 32 taking place across the continent. For those who aren’t familiar with the event, the showcase is the second tier of European soccer tournaments.
The eight clubs that finished third in their respective Champions League groups dropped down to the 32-team playoff, along with the top two finishers in each Europa group.
What is everyone playing for? It’s pretty simple: the title winner earns a spot in Champions League next season.
We saw a ton of chaos in the first leg of action, so hears a snapshot of what we happened last Thursday:
- Young Boys and Bayer Leverkusen played a seven-goal thriller, with Leverkusen erasing a three-goal halftime deficit only to concede a late goal and lose 4-3.
- Manchester United destroyed Real Sociedad, 4-0, and but secured its spot in the Round of 16.
- AC Milan conceded a 93rd-minute goal to draw, 2-2, against 10-men Red Star Belgrade.
- Ajax scored two goals in the 87th and 89th minute to defeat Ligue 1 leader Lille on the road.
- Granada upset injury riddled Napoli, 2-0, at home to gain a huge first-leg advantage.
- Royal Antwerp and Rangers played the game of the day that featured seven goals, three lead changes and three penalties. When it was all said and done, Rangers came away with a 4-3 victory.
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
- AC Milan: Mario Mandzukic (ST) is questionable to play against Red Star Belgrade.
- 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: Ricardo Esagio (RM) 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.
- Granada: Roberto Soldado (ST) and Luis Milla (CAM) are out against Napoli. Yangel Herrera (CDM) is questionable.
- Krasnodar: Cristian Ramirez (LB) is out against Dinamo Zagreb.
- Hoffenheim: Mijat Gacinovic (RB) and Stefan Posch (CB) are out against Molde.
- Leicester City: Ayoze Perez (RM), James Maddison (CAM), James Justin (LB) and Denis Praet (CAM) are out against Slavia Prague.
- Lille: Burak Yilmaz (ST) is questionable against Ajax.
- Manchester United: Edinson Cavani (ST), Donny van de Beek (CM) and Paul Pogba (CM) are out against Real Sociedad.
- PSV: Ibrahim Sangare (CM), Oliver Boscagli (CB) and Cody Gakpo (CAM) against Olympiacos.
- Rangers: James Tavernier (RB) is out against Royal Antwerp.
- Real Sociedad: Robin Le Normand (CB) is out against Manchester United.
- Red Star Belgrade: Milan Rodic (LM) and Nemanja Milunovic (CB) are out against AC Milan.
- Roma: Marash Kumbulla (CB) and Chris Smalling (CB) are out against Braga.
- Royal Antwerp: Abdoulaye Seck (CB) is out against Rangers.
- Salzburg: Maximilian Wober (CB) is out against Villarreal.
- Napoli: Hirving Lozano (RW), Elseid Hysaj (LB) and Konstantinos Manolas (CB) are out against Granada. David Ospina (GK) is questionable.
- Villarreal: Francis Coquelin (CM), Mario Gaspar (RB) and Victor Iborra (CM) are out against Salzburg.
I cannot stress this enough that before placing a bet you have to know what happened in the first leg.
For example, some teams who gained huge opening-leg advantages might rest some key players or play more defensive if all they need is a draw to move into the next round.
Whatever club has the highest number of total aggregate goals between two legs moves onto the Round of 16. If the two clubs are tied, whomever has more away goals moves on.
Here is a list of what each team needs to move onto the Round of 16:
- Dynamo Kiev: Win
- Club Brugge: Win or Draw at 0-0
- Ajax: Win, Draw or 1-0 loss
- Lille: Win by two goals or by one goal while scoring three or more times
- Arsenal: Win or Draw at 0-0
- Benfica: Win or Draw, while scoring more than one goal
- Hoffenheim: Win or Draw, while holding Molde to less than three goals
- Molde: Win or Draw, while scoring three or more goals
- Rangers: Win, Draw or on goal loss, while holding Royal Antwerp to less than four goals
- Royal Antwerp: Win by two or more goals or win by one goal while scoring five or more times
- Napoli: Win by two or more goals
- Granada: Win, Draw, one-goal loss or two-goal loss, while scoring once
- Shakhtar: Win, Draw, one-goal loss or two-goal loss, while holding Maccabi Tel Aviv to less than four goals
- Maccabi Tel Aviv: Win by two or more goals or win by two goals, while scoring more than four times
- Villarreal: Win, Draw, one-goal loss or two-goal loss, while holding Maccabi Tel Aviv to less than four goals
- Salzburg: Win by two or more goals or win by two goals, while scoring four or more times
- AC Milan: Win or Draw, while holding Red Star Belgrade to less than two goals
- Red Star Belgrade: Win or Draw, while scoring three or more times
- Bayer Leverkusen: Win by two or more goals or win by one goal, while holding Young Boys to less than three goals
- Young Boys: Win, Draw or lose by one goal, while scoring four or more goals
- Dinamo Zagreb: Win, Draw or lose by one goal while holding Krasnodar to less than three goals
- Krasnodar: Win by two or more goals or win by one goal, while scoring four or more times
- Leicester City: Win
- Slavia Prague: Win or Draw ,while scoring once
- Manchester United: Win, Draw or lose by less than three goals
- Real Sociedad: Win by more than four goals
- PSV: Win by more than two goals or win by two goals, while holding Olympiacos to less than two goals
- Olympiacos: Win, Draw or lose by less than two goals or lose by two goals, while scoring more than two goals
- Roma: Win, Draw or lose by less than two goals or lose by two goals, while holding Braga to less than two goals
- Braga: Win by more than two goals or win by two goals, while scoring more than three times
Betting Analysis & Picks
Ajax vs. Lille (12:55 p.m. ET)
Lille had one of the more horrific collapses in the first leg, giving away two late goals to suffer a 2-1 defeat.
However, up until that point the match was fairly even, as goals were really hard to come by. 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.
Through 86 minutes of play, Lille only allowed Ajax to create 0.58 xG, so the Dutch champion was really finding it difficult to breakdown Lille’s defense.
Sure, Ajax has a high-flying offense running rampant through the Eredivisie right now, scoring 2.60 xG per match. However, based on UEFA coefficients, France’s Ligue 1 is a much more difficult league to play in than the Netherlands’ top flight.
Additionally, Ajax does not need to win. All it needs is a draw to secure a spot in the Round of 16, so I expect the home side to play defensive and cautious.
Based on my projections, I don’t think Ajax should be favored, so I’m going to back Lille’s spread of +0.5 at -120 odds.
Pick: Lille +0.5 (-120)
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Hoffenheim vs. Molde (12:55 p.m. ET)
The German side absolutely dominated the first leg, but gave away two late goals to allow the Norwegian champion to draw 3-3.
Die Kraichgauer created a whopping 5.06 expected goals in the match, and the expected goals map is something to behold (Map via Infogol):
Not mention, Hoffenheim was able to create all of these chances without their main goal-scoring threat Andrej Kramaric, who was as out due to injury. He makes his return Thursday, and will be a big help since he has a 0.70 xG per 90 minute scoring rate and has been involved in 16 of their 36 goals in the Bundesliga this season.
Norway’s Eliteserien league runs from April to December, as the winters are too harsh to play soccer. That means last Thursday was Molde’s first competitive match since December 19. Clearly trying to play European competitions during their usual offseason had a huge effect in the first leg, as they were really lucky to get the 3-3 draw.
Based on UEFA coefficients, Norway’s Eliteserien is the 24th-most difficult league to play in across Europe. So, Molde’s 1.26 xGA per match last season looks quite terrible when you put it against a club that plays in one of the toughest leagues in the world.
Molde can’t sit back defensively because they have to get a victory or draw by scoring more than three goals to move onto the Round of 16. Therefore, I think that will create a lot of scoring chances for Hoffenheim. So, I am going to back Hoffenheim’s team total over 2.5 goals at -120 odds.
Pick: Hoffenheim Team Total Over 2.5 Goals (-120)
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Manchester United vs. Real Sociedad (3 p.m. ET)
The Red Devils might have won the first leg by a 4-0 score line, but the game was a lot closer than the result showed. Manchester United only won the XG battle by a 2.56-0.57 margin, so Sociedad was better than losing by four goals.
The underlying metrics for Real Sociedad and Manchester United in their respective leagues are actually similar. Real Sociedad has a +21.76 xGDiff in La Liga, while the Red Devils only have a +15.11 xGDiff in the Premier League.
Based on UEFA coefficients, England’s top flight is only slightly more difficult league than La Liga, so essentially these teams are a lot more even than what happened in the first leg.
Manchester United only needs to lose by less than four goals, so I don’t expect it to put weight into this match. Additionally, the Red Devils have a very important fixture with Chelsea on Sunday, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Ole Gunnar Solskjær rests some of his key players.
Since I have this match projected around Pick’em, I think there is some value on Real Sociedad’s spread of +0.5 at -127 odds.
Pick: Real Sociedad +0.5 (-127)
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AC Milan vs. Red Star Belgrade (3 p.m. ET)
The first leg was an incredibly open contest, with a ton of scoring chances at both ends of the pitch.
Red Star Belgrade was not afraid of the Italian giant, and tried to get forward in waves as often as it possibly could. The proof is in the numbers, too, as Red Star Belgrade actually outshot AC Milan, 20-13, in the match.
However, AC Milan won the xG battle via a 1.94-1.70 advantage, so the 2-2 finish was the correct result.
AC Milan rested some of its key players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Hakan Calhanoglu and Franck Kessie in the first leg due to the fact it had a match against Inter Milan over the weekend. I expect those guys to be back in the lineup, so AC Milan should be able to score near or more than its 2.06 xGF per match average.
Additionally, two Red Star Belgrade players, including one of their starting defenders, are going to miss this match due to suspension.
Red Star Belgrade’s offense is putting up some ridiculous XG numbers in the Serbian Super League, averaging 2.29 xGF per match. The club only has one loss on the season at Hoffenheim, so the 2-2 first leg result was not a fluke.
With these offenses averaging more than two xGs per match, I think we are going to see another wide-open contest with a ton of scoring opportunities. Therefore I am going to back the total over three goals at +110 odds.
Pick: Total Over 3 Goals (+110)
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