Europa League Tips: Tough opening round expected for both Glasgow sides

Last two standing

Following a marathon Europa League qualification campaign that saw two Premiership sides fall out of contention, the Old Firm are left flying the flag for Scottish football once again. The group stages begin on Thursday and a tough night awaits Celtic and Rangers.

The Bhoys play host to Italian Serie A giants AC Milan after Steven Gerrard takes his Rangers team to Belgium where they’ll do battle with Group D rivals Standard Liege. Both matches receive the live TV treatment thanks to BT Sport, and you can place bets on an impressive range of markets thanks to the great work done by the Betfair Sportsbook traders.

Standard Liege v Rangers
Thursday, 17:55
Live on BT Sport

Standard Liege enjoy the home advantage on matchday one of the group stages and they prepare for this game on the back of a decent run of form. Liege take confidence from the fact they are unbeaten in their last four Belgian First Division A games with that purple patch consisting of two wins and a couple of draws. The locals are fourth in the division but sit just a point off the pace set by early leaders Club Bruges.

The Reds were last seen slipping to a 1-1 draw at home against Bruges on Saturday, grabbing a share of the spoils against the league leaders. That will be remembered as a point saved rather than two dropped after Liege scored an equaliser deep into stoppage-time with French defender Nicolas Gavory striking on 93 minutes. Better late than never, of course, but manager Philippe Montanier knows improvement is required on Thursday.

Gers arrive brimming with confidence

It was a weekend to remember for Glasgow Rangers and supporters after the blue half of the city celebrated a convincing away win over Celtic in Saturday’s Old Firm Derby. Gers entered as the underdogs to take three points from the champions, but they did it at a canter when winning 2-0 thanks to a double from defender Connor Goldson.

That win over the Hoops was enough to see Rangers stay top of the Scottish Premiership and open a four-point gap over their rivals. Confidence is high in the away dressing room and they’ll view winning Group D and making the knockout stages of the Europa League for the second time in two seasons as an achievable task. They must get something out of this match if they are to give themselves the best chance possible of achieving that.

Defence will be key to success

Rangers were impressive at the weekend when beating Celtic and caught the eye in the playoff round of this competition when eliminating Turkish giants Galatasaray by a 2-1 score. Betfair traders offer the away win at 13/10 with Standard Liege available as a 19/10 alternative. The home team to draw their third game in four appeals at 5/2.

The Gers defended well at Celtic Park with goalkeeper Alan McGregor a spectator for most of the afternoon. Gerrard will ask for the same level of concentration from his backline again and that could result in a tense 90 minutes with Rangers sitting deep and looking to hit on the counter through Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos. Under 2.5 goals is evens through the Betfair Sportsbook with over 2.5 goals 4/5.

Celtic v AC Milan
Thursday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport

Big European nights are back in the east end of Glasgow as Celtic take on AC Milan in Europa League Group H. Beating the Italian Serie A side is certainly no mean feat but with the pool made up of Lille and Sparta Prague, the Bhoys know just how important it is to make home advantage count. There will be no fans inside the stadium to recreate that special atmosphere but there will be no less pressure on the players to perform.

Celtic suffered a devastating defeat at this venue against Rangers on Saturday and the spotlight is now on Neil Lennon’s side to see how they respond. Losing an Old Firm Derby is never easy but it’s the manner in which they went down that has caused outrage amongst fans. Celtic finished without a single shot on target after being dominated by the light blues. A home win over AC Milan would go some way to making up for that poor performance.

Milan have the measure of Celtic

AC Milan arrive in Glasgow having played Celtic 10 times before and losing only once. The spare came back in 2007 on Champions League duty but the head-to-head stats at present show six wins for Milan and three draws. The Italians scored an impressive 3-0 when last here in 2013, the goals that day scored by Kaka, Christian Zapata and Mario Balotelli. That victory means since their loss to Celtic, AC Milan have played three and won three, scoring six goals while keeping clean sheets in each game.

Stefano Pioli’s team arrive in Glasgow sitting top of Serie A with a 100% record from their first four games. They have a dozen points on the board which leaves them two ahead of nearest rivals Sassuolo and four better than Juventus who have endured a slow start to their latest defence. Finding themselves in the title mix at this early stage may take some of the focus away from their Europa League adventure but the visitors are expected to send a strong side as they aim to bank all three points in their opening group match.

Visitors are hot favourites

AC Milan may be the away team, but Celtic Park will be without fans and we saw how that seemed to affect the players at the weekend when losing to Rangers. The visitors have been in incredible form of late and that explains why the Betfair Sportsbook has an away win as 4/5 favourites. Celtic can be backed at 17/5 to bounce back to winning ways at the first time of asking or there’s 14/5 for this game to end in a draw.

AC Milan have played three times already this month and each match has produced at least three goals with the Italians scoring seven and conceding three. This fixture producing over 2.5 goals can be backed at 10/11 with under the same mark 4/5 on the Betfair Sportsbook. Celtic must show something better than they produced at the weekend but Milan anywhere near their best will be too good. AC Milan to win to nil is 21/10.

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