Europa League: Decisive night ahead for British teams

25 November 2021 23:17:02 GMTPlus11
Kasper Schmeichel will aim to aid Leicester

The penultimate round of fixtures in this season's Europa League group stage are contested on Thursday and there is plenty at stake for the four British sides in action.

Europe's secondary club competition has taken on a new lease of life this season following UEFA's decision to reduce the number of teams competing in the group stage from 48 to 32.

That has added quality not quantity to the competition, while there is also plenty still on the line for the majority of sides, given the top two in each group will advance through to the knockout stages, while the third-place teams will drop into the Europa Conference League.

That means there are some intriguing and potentially decisive games set to take place on Thursday, not least for the quartet of British teams in the competition.

Happy Hammers seeking top spot

West Ham United may be competing in the group stage of a European competition for the very first time, but they have taken to their new surroundings with ease, as they currently top Group H after collecting 10 points from their opening four matches.

That tally is already enough to have secured David Moyes' side a place in the Europa League knockout stages and another victory at Rapid Vienna on Thursday, which can be backed at 1.55, would seal top spot and an automatic route through to the round of 16.

The Hammers did see their seven-match unbeaten run across all competitions ended by Wolves last weekend in the Premier League, but they should have too much for a Rapid team who are bottom of the group and lost 2-0 when the two teams met at the London Stadium on Matchday Two.

The Irons could even be celebrating if they fail to win at the Allianz Stadion, as they only have to match Dinamo Zagreb's result against Genk in the night's other Group H contest to be assured of top spot.

All options on the table for Foxes

Group C is turning into one of the most delicately poised groups in this year's competition, with Leicester City currently sitting bottom of the standings, but a victory at the King Power Stadium over Legia Warsaw on Thursday would see them jump into first place.

The Foxes will head into that match not in the best of form, as they have failed to win any of their last four matches across all competitions, but they are priced at 1.16 to win the contest and 1.83 to finish top of the standings come the end of the group stage.

Legia sit a point above Leicester in the group standings and claimed a 1-0 victory when the two sides met in Poland on Matchday Two, although their form of late has been even poorer than the Foxes', as they have lost four games on the spin under new boss Marek Gołebiewski.

The two other teams in Group B, Spartak Moscow and Napoli, met in Russia on Wednesday, with the hosts claiming a 2-1 win to move level with I Partenopei at the top of the standings on seven points.

That means regardless of Thursday's result at the King Power, all four teams in the group will still be in contention to qualify heading into Matchday Six when Leicester visit Napoli and Legia will host Spartak.

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Van Bronckhorst era to begin at Ibrox

Rangers began life after Steven Gerrard in disastrous fashion, losing 3-1 to Hibernian in the semi-finals of the Scottish League Cup, but they will have new boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the dugout for the first time for Thursday's clash with Sparta Prague at Ibrox.

Lyon may have already wrapped up top spot in Group A, but the battle for second remains wide open, with the Gers currently sitting third, level on points with second place Sparta, while Brondby are just two points further back.

That means if Brondby fail to beat Lyon in Denmark, then the winner of Thursday's match at Ibrox will take a giant step towards securing second place and a spot in the knockout stages - Sparta will be through if they win, while Rangers' progression will be confirmed if they triumph by more than a one-goal margin.

Rangers have had trouble with Czech opponents of late, losing 1-0 to Sparta on Matchday Two, while they were dumped out of the Europa League by Slavia Prague in the round of 16 stage last season.

Thursday's contest is certainly a big one for Van Bronckhorst to begin his tenure as boss, with the Scottish Premiership leaders priced at 1.57 to claim the victory that may be enough to secure their progress into the Europa League knockout stages for the third season in a row.

Improving Bhoys may come unstuck in Germany

Celtic certainly appear to be finding their feet under Ange Postecoglou, as they are unbeaten in their last nine matches across all competitions, winning eight of those games, including claiming back-to-back successes against Ferencvaros.

Those victories over the Hungarian champions have not only guaranteed that the Bhoys will be playing some form of European football after Christmas, but it has also fired them back into contention at the top of Group G.

The Glasgow giants currently sit third in the standings, a point behind Real Betis and four off group leaders Bayer Leverkusen, who they will face at the BayArena on Thursday.

That match will be a good gauge of how far Celtic have come over recent weeks, as they were comprehensively thrashed 4-0 by Leverkusen at Parkhead on Matchday Two.

Leverkusen's form has dipped since then, while Celtic's has certainly improved, but it still looks a tall order for Postecoglou's side to take anything from Thursday's contest, with the away win being available at 5.50.

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